Arsenal’s English Premier League title hopes take a knock as they are held to a 0-0 home draw by Sunderland.
|Kuyt capitalises on Nani’s mistake to head an easy second as Liverpool continued their fine EPL form [GALLO/GETTY]|
Dirk Kuyt severely dented Manchester United’s title hopes as he scored his first hat-trick for Liverpool in front of a delighted crowd at Anfield.
The Dutchman was handed each of his three strikes on a plate as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side defended sloppily in the face of attacks from new Liverpool forward Luis Suarez.
And the 3-1 result will be savoured by Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish in his first Anfield showdown with Ferguson in 20 years.
In the other match, Steven Fletcher headed in a late equaliser to earn Wolverhampton Wanderers a deserved point from a 3-3 draw with Champions League-chasing Tottenham Hotspur.
Kuyt grabbed his first after 34 minutes when he prodded in on the goalline following Suarez’s inventine jinking run and cross.
Liverpool were 2-0 up five minutes later when United midfielder Nani headed back into the danger area from a cross, giving Kuyt an easy header past Edwin van der Sar.
He then followed up a Suarez free kick 25 minutes before time, stabbing home Van der Sar’s spill with no United defender in sight.
|Results & fixtures|
Saturday March 5
Birmingham 1-3 West Brom
Sunday March 6
Monday March 7
Javier Hernandez grabbed an injury time consolation for the English Premier League leaders, who also lost to Chelsea in midweek.
“I have to thank Luis Suarez because he played great today and created two of the three goals,” Kuyt said.
“They were quite easy goals. I used to score these types of goals when I used to play more like this as a striker in Holland, but I will take them.”
United are still top but are now on 60 points after 29 matches, having played a game more than Arsenal who are just three points behind.
Having been threatened by relegation before Dalglish took over from Roy Hodgson in January, Liverpool rise to seventh on 42 points.
United said afterwards that Nani had suffered a “deep gash” in his leg after being caught on the shin by a late tackle from Jamie Carragher shortly before half time, before being stretchered off.
A club spokesman said the Portuguese player’s injury would be assessed on Monday.
Carragher was shown a yellow card by Phil Dowd, the referee.
Defeat on Sunday threatened to expose United’s title challenge at the time in the season when they usually come to life.
Without first-choice central defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, United, seeking to beat the record of 18 titles they share with Liverpool, had hoped to go six points clear after Arsenal drew 0-0 with Sunderland on Saturday.
Until a month ago, United were unbeaten in the league and grinding out results without always playing in the manner of champions-elect, but three defeats in five games bear the hallmarks of a wobble as unfamiliar as it could be costly.
In previous seasons, Alex Ferguson’s sides have built a reputation for finding their form at the “business end” of the season – in other words, now.
With champions Chelsea suffering a mid-season slump and Arsenal and Manchester City also falling to surprise defeats, pundits had said United were top of the table by default because some of their own dropped points had gone unpunished.
Luck seems to be turning against them, however, and the leg injury to winger Nani provided more misery on a rotten day at Anfield after the Portuguese had blundered to present Kuyt with the second goal of his hat-trick.
United, in fact, had so much to worry about that Ryan Giggs’s feat of surpassing Bobby Charlton’s record 606 league games for the club was barely noticed.
Arsenal look to have an easier run-in than United, who must still travel to the Emirates, meaning Arsene Wenger could have been beaming as much as Dalglish on Sunday.
A rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” echoed round Anfield in the closing stages of the game as home fans belatedly celebrated manager Dalglish’s 60th.
Dalglish, who was in charge when Liverpool last won the title, 21 years ago, told a news conference: “Everyone who supports Liverpool football club has had a great day.
“It’s all down to the performance of the players. I thought the way they went about their job, their attitude, their desire to get a result … Manchester United are a great benchmark.”
At Molineux, Scotland striker Fletcher rose to meet a cross by Matt Jarvis and found the corner of the net with three minutes left.
Jermain Defoe had canceled out Kevin Doyle’s opening goal with two long-range strikes in the space of five minutes – the England striker’s first goals in the league this season.
Doyle equalised from the penalty spot but Roman Pavlyuchenko put Spurs back in front before Fletcher’s late strike.
The visitors drew level on points with fourth-place Chelsea, who have a game in hand.
The positive from the game was the return of Gareth Bale after six weeks out with a back injury, with the Wales winger getting 20 minutes of action ahead of the Champions League last-16 second leg against AC Milan on Wednesday.