By Robert Nevitt
Luis Suarez hit a sensational hat-trick as Liverpool ran out comfortable 3-0 winners against Norwich City at Carrow Road.
With one eye on Wembley, Dalglish chose to shuffle his squad, making five changes from last weekend's defeat to West Bromwich Albion, with Martin Skrtel named as substitute and Andy Carroll given the weekend off with a slight groin injury. In came Jonjo Shelvey in midfield, whilst skipper Steven Gerrard returned to play just behind lone striker Suarez. With the home side safe in mid-table following an impressive campaign, manager Paul Lambert also make a handful of changes with Canaries skipper and leading scorer Grant Holt only named on the bench.
After a quiet opening twenty-three minutes, in which both sides struggled to make any inroads towards their opponents' goal, the game was brought to life as the visitors took the lead.
David Fox's heavy touch midway inside his own half allowed the quick-thinking Gerrard to nick possession. The Reds skipper then had the presence of mind to hit a first time reverse pass to Suarez on the edge of the box. So often guilty of squandering chances, Suarez took one touch before arrowing a fine-left footed finish past keeper John Ruddy into the far corner of the net.
A minute later Suarez and Gerrard combined again with the striker's pull-back from the right resulting in Gerrard's goalbound effort blocked by Ryan Bennett.
Liverpool were now looking confident and quickly doubled their advantage. When Norwich defender Elliot Ward dallied from a throw-in, Suarez dispossessed him and charged down the right flank. As he approached the area there seemed little danger, but Suarez showed his new-found clinicalness as he fired a low right-foot shot fizzing into the bottom corner of the net.
After a torrid recent run of seven defeats in ten league games, a two-goal cushion allowed Liverpool a welcome chance to relax and knock the ball about with confidence. The impressive Gerrard and Suarez partnership looked a constant threat with Craig Bellamy an able accomplice, whilst Shelvey and Henderson looked assured in midfield.
The home side had spent much of the first half looking like a side busy planning their well-deserved summer vacations, but after a probable half-time dressing down from manager Lambert, they did at least try to test the Reds after the restart.
First, Elliot Bennett forced Pepe Reina into a good save after a fine twenty-five yard drive, before Bradley Johnson should have down better when he met Anthony Pilkington's corner.
But despite the Canaries' improvement, Liverpool still looked the side more likely to score. A flowing move saw a Suarez shot rebound in the air for Shelvey to head against the bar, before the young midfielder missed an even clearer opportunity to register his first league goal for the Reds when he somehow contrived to miss an open goal from six yards after good work from Jose Enrique.
Star of the show for the Reds though was Suarez. His constant movement and trickery led the Norwich defence a merry dance, with marker Ryan Bennett resorting to trying to stop the striker by first clinging on to his neck, then forearm smashing him.
With the home fans berating Suarez for his well-documented disciplinary problems, the Uruguayan should have made them pay when his profligate side saw him pass up the opportunity of completing his hat-trick. In a move which summed up Saurez' season, he brilliantly nut-megged a Norwich defender, but instead of rolling the ball past Ruddy, he attempted an audacious chip which fell onto the roof of the net.
Following the let-off, Norwich sensed a way back into the game. Sub James Vaughan, a former striker with Liverpool's Merseyside rivals Everton, fired just wide after a neat turn, before Reds defender Jamie Carragher was at his best as he charged down Vaughan's effort.
With eight minutes remaining though the result was put to bed as the game's best player Suarez converted his hat-trick with one of the goals of this, or any other, season. Glen Johnson's long clearance to the half-way line broke to Suarez, who moved the ball out of his feet before brilliantly lobbing Ruddy from all of 45 yards for his 11th league goal of the campaign.
Three-nil up, Dalglish quickly afforded his star striker a deserved standing ovation from the travelling Kop as he and Gerrard were given an early rest ahead of the cup final.
The win kept Liverpool hot on the heels of city rivals Everton, but more importantly, it provided a fillip ahead of the meeting with Chelsea. The Reds will have another pre-final chance to boost confidence when they entertain Fulham on Tuesday night, but with Suarez in this kind of form, confidence will almost certainly not be an issue.