By Martyn Herman
LUIS Suarez struck a clinical hat-trick as Liverpool thrashed West Bromwich Albion 4-1 at Anfield to keep pace with Premier League leaders Arsenal on Saturday.
Suarez scored twice in five first-half minutes and again after the break to keep Liverpool two points behind Arsenal, who prevailed 2-0 at Crystal Palace in an early kickoff despite having goalscorer Mikel Arteta sent off.
Dark clouds were gathering over Old Trafford where champions Manchester United twice trailed Stoke City before late goals by Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez earned them a 3-2 victory, staving off a fourth league defeat of the season.
Romelu Lukaku was on target again for Everton as they moved into third place, four behind Arsenal, with a 2-0 victory at Aston Villa. Norwich City drew 0-0 at home to Cardiff City and remain in the relegation zone.
Chelsea face Manchester City on Sunday.
Suarez’s first home hat-trick for Liverpool and a brilliant effort by Daniel Sturridge underlined the Merseysiders top-four credentials this season.
Liverpool have lost only one of their last 17 league matches and once Suarez jinked past two defenders and crashed a shot past Boaz Myhill after 12 minutes they did not look back.
Suarez, who began the season still serving a 10-match ban after biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in April, headed his second after 17 minutes and connected with Steven Gerrard’s free kick after 55 minutes to make it 3-0.
West Brom pulled one back with a James Morrison penalty but Sturridge saved the best to last with an audacious chip.
Arsenal hit back from their midweek disappointment in the Champions League against Borussia Dortmund with a scrappy win against a Palace side reeling from the departure of manager Ian Holloway in midweek.
Without being anywhere near their fluent best, Arsenal were comfortable winners thanks to Arteta’s penalty just after halftime and a late header from Olivier Giroud.
They did have some anxious moments, however, after Arteta was dismissed for taking down Marouane Chamakh when the former Arsenal striker seemed set for a run on goal.
“These are the kind of games where you need the points, we were mature, resilient, well-organised and in the end we got the second goal which was a relief,” manager Arsene Wenger said.
“I thought honestly we were unlucky to be down to 10 men and needed to be patient.”
Peter Crouch gave Stoke a shock early lead at Old Trafford and despite Robin Van Persie’s equaliser United still trailed at the interval when Marko Arnautovic’s curling free kick silenced the restless home crowd.
Stoke appeared to be heading for their first league win at Old Trafford since 1976 but Rooney and substitute Hernandez struck to spare new manager David Moyes further criticism after a poor start to the season.
“When I came on, the manager told me to do the things I do on the training ground,” Hernandez said.
“Thankfully it was a wonderful cross from Patrice (Evra) and I found the space to score. The spirit at this club is always here – we fight until the last minute in every game.”
By Martyn Herman