Luis Suárez may be suspended but here was proof that Liverpool can still call on a striker with the ability to excite and frustrate in equal measure. Daniel Sturridge sealed his first hat-trick for them on his first return to west London since joining from Chelsea in January but still managed to provoke gasps of exasperation with his poor finishing and decision-making.
Sturridge is unlikely to focus on the negatives as he reflects on having secured 10 Premier League goals for Liverpool quicker than any of their previous strikers. Neither are the fans who packed the away end and turned the air red with a firework display that reflected a surprisingly entertaining match between two sides with little to play for. Fulham were all but safe following Aston Villa's defeat to Chelsea while Liverpool only retained a slim chance of finishing above Everton and that had disappeared with their win over West Ham.
The stage was clear, then, for Sturridge to shine. He scored his first with a thrashed finish past Mark Schwarzer three minutes after Dimitar Berbatov had given Fulham the lead with a close-range header and his second came on 62 minutes with a low strike at the far post. The third was a lofted finish over Schwarzer following Philippe Coutinho's exquisite through pass and, in between, the 23-year-old also found time to goad the Fulham fans and annoy his own with some glaring misses and a failure to play in Coutinho when the Brazilian had a clear sight of goal. "He's not perfect," said Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager, "but overall he was outstanding and if he keeps improving he'll have an outstanding couple of years for us."
Fulham must have felt a first win in seven games was in their grasp after they took the lead against a Liverpool side missing the injured Steven Gerrard and containing the relatively unused Sebastián Coates and Andre Wisdom in a reshaped three-man defence against an under-strength Liverpool, but they were ultimately undone by visitors, and one striker in particular, full of attacking zeal.
"We were happy to get to 40 points but we couldn't get a result to get to 46 or 47," Martin Jol said. The Fulham manager was unhappy with the referee Mark Halsey for not giving a penalty when, with the game finely poised at 1-1, Bryan Ruiz's cross struck Lucas Leiva's arm inside the area.
Man of the match Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)