Barclays Premier League: Norwich City 0, Liverpool 3
19:33 28 April 2012
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Striker Luis Suarez scored a hat-trick at rainswept Carrow Road to condemn Norwich City to their third successive Premier League defeat.
The controversial Uruguayan struck twice in the space of four minutes in the first half to give the FA Cup finalists a firm grip on the game, then completed his treble by floating in an amazing goal from just inside the Norwich half eight minutes from time.
All three goals came following bad errors, by David Fox, Kyle Naughton and Elliott Ward, but in truth the Canaries were comfortably outclassed and could have been looking at another Manchester City scoreline had Suarez and Jonjo Shelvey not spurned further chances in the second half.
It was the first time City had lost three successive league games under manager Paul Lambert, and continued their dismal run in front of the TV cameras, with just one win in 11 “live” games this season.
City showed five changes after the 2-0 defeat by Blackburn, with skipper Grant Holt not introduced until the final quarter of an hour.
A crowd of 26,819 watched a game played in driving rain, an all-seater record for the stadium and the biggest home crowd since 1983, but most of them will not have enjoyed it.
Lambert made five changes, with Kyle Naughton recalled at full-back, David Fox and Bradley Johnson returning in midfield, Anthony Pilkington back in a wide role and Steve Morison making his first start since the defeat at Fulham.
Out went Russell Martin, Andrew Surman, Wes Hoolahan, James Vaughan and skipper Grant Holt, all of whom were among the substitutes.
Liverpool also made five changes after the 1-0 home defeat by West Bromwich Albion. Skipper Steven Gerrard returned after a hamstring niggle, while Jamie Carragher, Jonjo Shelvey, ex-Canary Craig Bellamy and Stewart Downing were also back.
Out went Martin Skrtel, Jay Spearing, Maxi Rodriguez, and Dirk Kuyt, all of whom were on the bench, and striker Andy Carroll, not even on the bench.
The Canaries were playing their 200th Premier League game, and the afternoon results meant that at kick-off they were still looking for the point that would make them mathematically certain of another season in the top flight.
Elliott Ward led City out as captain for the penultimate home game of the season, which got under way in steady rain on a slippery surface.
In the opening minute, Fox needed attention for a bang on the head when he ducked low for the ball and was caught by Shelvey’s boot.
Pilkington looked sharp as he moved on to Bradley Johnson’s pass but lost his footing at the vital moment.
Ryan Bennett and Drury both tidied up neatly as Liverpool threatened, but there was a blow for City after just eight minutes when Drury pulled up sharply with what appeared to be a groin problem and left the field, heading straight down the tunnel.
With City down to 10 men, Pilkington had a clear opening on the left but his cross to the far post was cut out.
Russell Martin was eventually sent on to replace Drury, with Naughton switching to left-back.
A foul by Henderson on Elliott Bennett gave Norwich a free-kick close to the right corner flag, but Fox’s ball was an easy catch for Reina.
Agger made a timely interception as Martin got forward for the first time, sliding in to cut out his low cross.
Liverpool moved ahead in the 24th minute, however, as they cashed in on an error by Fox.
Fox took Martin’s pass but was caught in possession by Gerrard and the skipper slipped the ball inside for Suarez, who struck a powerful left-foot shot across Ruddy into the top corner.
It was almost 2-0 when Suarez broke on the right and crossed to Gerrard, whose effort from 12 yards struck Ryan Bennett and flew wide.
But with 28 minutes gone, Suarez doubled the lead after another dreadful error. Naughton tried to pass back to Ward on the left touchline but left it well short and Suarez beat Ward in the challenge and drilled a perfectly-placed shot out of reach of Ruddy.
Suarez was claiming a penalty seven minutes before the break when he tangled with Ward, but referee Halsey was unimpressed.
City’s confusion at the back was underlined when an effort by Johnson was allowed to slip through to Suarez but he failed to control it and the home side escaped.
Two minutes before the break, Ward was booked for bringing down Suarez after a mistake by Ryan Bennett left City in trouble, Bellamy firing the resulting free-kick over the top.
Howson was also shown the yellow card in first-half stoppage time for a blatant block on Gerrard.
• Half-time: Norwich City 0, Liverpool 2
City made their second change at the interval when Vaughan was sent on in place of Fox, and they reverted to a diamond formation.
The Canaries forced three corners early in the second half, Pilkington taking all three, but they were unable to create a worthwhile chance from any of them.
Five minutes after the break, Reina was finally given something to do when he dived to his right to push away Elliott Bennett’s 20-yard shot. Johnson headed wide from Pilkington’s corner when he might have done better.
There was an escape at then other end, however, when Suarez connected with Downing’s cross but Ryan Bennett made an important block, Shelvey heading against the bar from the rebound.
Downing then shot over after Suarez teed him up and, remarkably, Shelvey missed an open goal, clearing the bar as he slid in to meet Jose Enrique’s cross.
Elliott Bennett tried his luck from even further out but this time he was well off target.
Gerrard’s diagonal pass set Downing off on a twisting run that might have brought a third goal, but Ruddy got down to his right to make a fine save from the winger’s shot.
Suarez might have completed his hat-trick after 63 minutes after Ward and Ryan Bennett both made errors, but in attempting to float the ball over Ruddy, he also cleared the bar.
Howson cleared off the line from a glancing header by Agger as City continued to creak at the back and, at the other end, Vaughan was booked for tripping goalkeeper Reina.
Vaughan fired wide with a shot on the turn but it was a rare threat from the Canaries, who still faced an uphill battle with 20 minutes left.
Ryan Bennett earned City’s fourth yellow card for a foul on Suarez.
Vaughan flashed a header wide from Russell Martin’s cross and, with just under a quarter of an hour to go, Morison made way for Holt.
Johnson fired over from long range but his effort was never going to trouble Reina.
Vaughan had a shot blocked by Carragher, but with eight minutes left, Suarez completed his hat-trick with an incredible goal, scored from only just inside the Norwich half.
A long ball out of defence found Ward on halfway, unable to control as Suarez whipped the ball away, and from fully 50 yards he floated the ball over Ruddy as the keeper furiously backpedalled, but in vain.
A Liverpool fan, for want of a better word, ran on to the pitch to join in the celebrations.
• Result: Norwich City 0, Liverpool 3
• Norwich City: Ruddy, Naughton, Ryan Bennett, Ward, Drury (Russell Martin, 12); Elliott Bennett, Fox (Vaughan, 45), Howson, Bradley Johnson, Pilkington; Morison (Holt, 76). Subs: Steer, Surman, Hoolahan, Wilbraham.
• Liverpool: Reina; Glen Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Jose Enrique; Henderson; Downing, Shelvey, Gerrard (Coates, 85), Bellamy; Suarez (Kuyt, 85). Subs (not used): Doni, Kelly, Skrtel, Spearing, Maxi Rodriguez.
• Referee: Mark Halsey (Lancashire)
• Attendance: 26,819
• Goals: Liverpool: Suarez (24, 28, 82)
• Bookings: City: Ward (43), Howson (45), Vaughan (66), Ryan Bennett (71)