Premier League - Maxi hat-trick sinks Birmingham
Maxi Rodriguez plundered a hat-trick as Liverpool clinched a 5-0 win over Birmingham in their Premier League encounter at Anfield to plunge Alex McLeish's side back into relegation trouble.
Rodriguez grabbed his second of the match in the 66th minute as his controlled volley was the culmination of a sweeping move from the hosts, and he sealed his hat-trick with a close-range finish seven minutes later before substitute Joe Cole added a fifth to round off an emphatic victory.
Of the two Liverpool players who underwent late fitness tests, striker Andy Carroll was deemed unfit to even assume a place on the bench, but Jamie Carragher was handed a starting berth in defence as manager Kenny Dalglish made two changes with left-back Jack Robinson handed his first senior start. Birmingham boss McLeish also made two changes from the side which lost to Chelsea, with Lee Bowyer and Martin Jiranek replacing Stuart Parnaby and Barry Ferguson.
The pace of the first half was typically frenetic, and Liverpool enjoyed 57 per cent of the possession as the hosts kept the ball in composed fashion from the outset.
The Reds deserved to be rewarded for their early pressure, but it was only a speculative effort from Jay Spearing which set up the opening goal, with Foster parrying the ball tamely straight into the path of the onrushing Rodriguez, who kept his cool to slot the ball home.
Two minutes later, Birmingham could have been level had Cameron Jerome had more composure in front of goal as he raced into the Liverpool six-yard box to meet Stephen Carr's fine cross from the right, only to fluff his shot, making a very tame contact.
The visitors were made to pay for their inability to respond as Liverpool's lead was ruthlessly doubled by Kuyt in the 23rd minute, who pounced upon a loose ball as Foster made a superb double save from Suarez, with the Dutchman finally bundling the ball home.
A dismal day for Foster then got even worse after the goalkeeper, who had sustained a knock in saving Suarez's initial effort in the lead up to the second goal, had to trudge off injured just before the break with Colin Doyle his replacement.
The second half got underway in very scrappy fashion as a flurry of cynical, if somewhat petty, fouls were committed by both sides, and the encounter only started to settle back down after the hour mark.
It was a disjoined Birmingham who attempted to muster a response to no avail, and Liverpool defended stoutly with the 18-year-old John Flanagan and the 17-year-old Robinson both turning out distinguished performances at full back.
The visitors were full of endeavour as they harried the Liverpool defenders relentlessly, but McLeish's side simply could not find the required inspiration or creativity to break down an obdurate Reds back four.
Liverpool lurked ominously, poised to launch a counter-attack at every opportunity, and a raking diagonal pass from Martin Skrtel found Suarez out on the right, who provided an exquisite delivery to the back post where Rodriguez was on hand to volley beyond Doyle and net a third for his side.
But Rodriguez's work was not complete. The Argentine sealed his hat-trick, having a rasping drive parried by Foster, but then slamming the ball home from close range after Roger Johnson inadvertently deflected the rebound into his path.
Before today, Rodriguez had never racked up a Premier League double, but he was left to carry the match ball off the field after having inspired Liverpool to a resounding victory.
Cole added a fifth with four minutes left of normal time having come on as a late replacement for Meireles just seconds before, but it was another pitiful piece of Birmingham goalkeeping as the substitute Doyle turned the ball into the net at his near post.
Dalglish's side move five points clear of their Merseyside rivals Everton and three shy of Tottenham as a result of the win, while Birmingham continue to languish perilously close to the relegation zone in 15th spot.