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Daniel Sturridge's hat-trick helped Liverpool to a convincing 3-1 Premier League win over Fulham at Craven Cottage. The former Chelsea forward was the star of the show with all three goals for his side to once again prove his value, as the Anfield outfit ran out convincing victors.
Dimitar Berbatov had opened the scoring for the hosts 12 minutes before the interval, but they were almost immediately pegged back by Sturridge's powerful shot inside the box. And the 23-year-old subsequently grabbed his second with a cool side-footed finish in the second half before, after missing a host of good chances to secure a third, he finally rounded off the result with a clever lob late on.
Fulham manager Martin Jol made three changes following his side's home defeat by Reading, with Aaron Hughes, Kieran Richardson and Alexander Kacaniklic replacing John Arne Riise, Philippe Senderos and Urby Emanuelson. Brendan Rodgers matched his counterpart in terms of changes, as Jose Enrique, Daniel Agger and Steven Gerrard made way for the young trio of Andre Wisdom, Sebastian Coates and Jonjo Shelvey. In keeping with the theme of youth, 17-year-old centre-back Lloyd Jones also earned a place on the bench for the visitors.
Fulham came into the game having lost their last four Barclays Premier League fixtures and, after Philippe Coutinho tested Mark Schwarzer with a powerful effort, Richardson's withdrawal due to injury a few seconds later seemed to indicate it would not be the hosts' day.
But after half-an-hour in which both sides fall to assert their dominance, Fulham went ahead by finishing the best chance of the opening stages. Sascha Riether found space on the right and curled in a perfect cross for Berbatov to nod in unmarked.
The game had been a largely even encounter until the opening goal, and a minute later Liverpool ensured it would remain that way. A simple long ball out of the visitors' defence caught Fulham by surprise and allowed Sturridge to jink past Aaron Hughes before smashing the ball into the roof of the net with his right foot.
Berbatov's flicked effort five minutes from half-time, which was well blocked by Wisdom, was the best Fulham could create in response before the break.
Rodgers clearly felt his team's lack of control in the first half was significant enough to warrant a change of approach, as Enrique was introduced in place of Wisdom before the restart. And the Spaniard almost made an immediate impact, only for Sturridge to head his cross from the left over the crossbar.
Sturridge did better with a chance on the hour mark, however, as he collected Coutinho's deflected shot brilliantly in the box and calmly passed the ball beyond Schwarzer into the far corner of the net.
The England forward could have grabbed his hat-trick on two occasions in the immediate aftermath but he was denied by Schwarzer twice when, particularly with the latter chance, he could perhaps have picked out a team-mate. But he eventually got his rewards for an excellent all-round performance as he clipped the ball over Schwarzer following a pin-point Coutinho with five minutes left to seal the points.
Fulham manager Martin Jol: "We were very happy to be on 40 points but we haven't been able to get a result since to be on 46 or 47. If you look at the effort we've put in against Chelsea, Arsenal and even today, there's nothing wrong with the effort or application or mentality, but when we've needed to change the game to score, we've looked a bit vulnerable.
"We need four, five or six players but that's normal at any club. We need to strengthen. Our home form was always good last year. Last year we could score out of nothing; we had Clint Dempsey to score winners. With Dimitar Berbatov, we gained somebody who could score goals but we lost things in other areas.
"Last season, we made a big step. We played fantastic football, especially after Christmas. But we had to start again. So we have to count our blessings that we had 40 points at the start of April."
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: "The players have been working very, very hard this year and it's been about building a base for us to move forward and as we have gone through the season we have got better and better. We can score goals, we can go to any ground and win a football match.
"Sturridge has scored goals from the minute he has come in and that is 11 goals in 15 games, which is a fantastic impact, which we hoped he would make. He can get goals in any game, he is a wonderful talent. I just felt Daniel just needed the platform to show what he could do and you see today the demonstration of his pace and his power.
"His first goal was a brilliant finish with his right foot, the second one he just guided in and the third goal was an incredible pass form young Coutinho. He really has a magical touch and the finish over Schwarzer was not easy. He's a great talent and he will prove if he stays fit and plays games to be one of the top strikers in the Premier League in the next few years."