Sturridge treble sinks Fulham
Daniel Sturridge wreaked havoc on his return to west London, firing Liverpool to an easy 3-1 win at Fulham with a superb hat-trick at Craven Cottage.
Sturridge had not scored against the Cottagers during his time at the club's local rivals Chelsea or while he was at Manchester City, but he took Martin Jol's team apart with three well-taken strikes. Three minutes after Dimitar Berbatov had nodded Fulham ahead, the England striker turned Aaron Hughes inside-out before smashing the ball into the roof of the net.
The 23-year-old latched on to Philippe Coutinho's deflected pass before beating Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer to make it 2-1 and he rounded off the win at the death with a clever chip over the Australian stopper, who was playing possibly his last match for the club.
Liverpool dominated the early possession, but Schwarzer remained untested until the 15th minute when Coutinho stung the Australian's palms with a 20-yard drive after he had rode a crunching tackle from Eyong Enoh.
Fulham barely had a touch of the ball in the opening half-hour, but they went ahead after 32 minutes. Damien Duff tapped the ball to Sascha Riether, who appeared to be in an offside position, and he whipped the ball to the back post where Berbatov nodded in after slipping in between Glen Johnson and Jamie Carragher.
The lead lasted just three minutes and 15 seconds. Andre Wisdom punted the ball upfield, Sturridge picked the ball out of the sky with his right boot and lifted it over Hughes before rifling into the roof of Schwarzer's goal. The former Chelsea man then taunted the home fans with a cocky celebration.
Berbatov sensed a chance to make it 2-1 when he latched on to Riether's cross, but Sebastian Coates nudged the ball behind for a corner. After the break, former Liverpool trainee Alexander Kacaniklic raced through after pinching the ball off Jordan Henderson, but he shot wide.
The Cottagers thought they should have had a penalty on the hour when Bryan Ruiz's cross struck Lucas Leiva's outstretched arm, but referee Mark Halsey waved play on. Two minutes later and Liverpool were ahead for the first time. Coutinho's deflected pass fell into Sturridge's path and he calmly stroked the ball past Schwarzer.
The England international robbed Brede Hangeland moments later, but this time he could not beat the goalkeeper. Jose Reina did brilliantly to deny Hughes during a rare Fulham attack, but Liverpool were soon back on the attack through substitute Fabio Borini, who hit a post after giving his marker the slip.
Sturridge then scored the goal which ensured he took home the match ball. The forward latched on to Coutinho's through-ball and lifted the ball over Schwarzer for what was his sixth goal in his last four matches.