Luis Suárez suggested that a season of gloom for him could yet end with glee as he warmed up for next weekend's FA Cup final by scoring a superb hat-trick to give Liverpool a comfortable victory against a Norwich City team that are looking increasingly haggard as the season draws to an end.
Constant barracking from the Carrow Road crowd reminded Suárez of the controversy that led to him missing a chunk of this campaign through suspension for racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra, and a miss when clean through in the second half recalled the wayward finishes that helped explain why he came into this having only scored eight Premier League goals all season. He made sure, however, that that miss will not be remembered, by hitting two splendid goals before it and then landing an extraordinary lob from 55 yards to score his first hat-trick for Liverpool since arriving from Ajax in January 2011.
A tepid start to the game gave no hint of the fireworks to come. After both sides started sluggishly, it took Steven Gerrard to raise Liverpool to a higher level, in the 24th minute. With a sudden burst that jolted Norwich, the visiting captain, returning to the team after missing the past four matches, nicked the ball off David Fox in midfield and nudged it through to Suárez, who did what he has frequently failed to do this season and converted the chance emphatically, lashing the ball into the far corner of the net from 16 yards. It was the first shot of the match.
The goal gave Liverpool their groove back. Two minutes later, they could have doubled their lead as Suárez dispossessed Elliott Ward wide on the right and cut the ball back for Gerrard, whose shot was deflected wide. Norwich began to crumple, and in the 29th minute Suárez harassed Ward into another error before dashing into the box and firing low past John Ruddy. Finally, the Uruguayan brought his Premier League goal tally to double figures for the season.
Liverpool had moved into Easy Street and Norwich looked incapable of evicting them, as the home side's early fluency departed. Paul Lambert changed personnel and formation at half-time and in the 51st minute, the Canaries finally registered a shot, Elliott Bennett's swirling effort from 25 yards giving Pepe Reina an opportunity to show he had lost none of his agility during his three-game suspension. Liverpool quickly reasserted their supremacy and Jonjo Shelvey nearly put them three up but his header came back off the bar.
Stewart Downing then drew a smart save from Ruddy before, in the 64th minute, Suárez nutmegged Ryan Bennett to give himself a chance of claiming his hat-trick, only to chip over the bar. In the 82nd minute he atoned for that in spectacular style. After collecting the ball just inside the Norwich half, he glanced upwards and sent a perfect lob over Ruddy from 55 yards. "I was about to give him a bollocking for a having a ridiculous shot," admitted Gerrard, delighted to have been struck dumb.
Two weeks ago, Norwich were taken apart here by Carlos Tevez and Sergio Agüero in a 6-1 defeat by Manchester City — this time they were dismantled by a one-man strike force who proved just as difficult to contain as that duo. The home side's centre-backs hardly helped themselves with some basic errors but Suárez's elusive movement and wonderful finishing would have tormented even the best defences. "Every goal was a great goal but that's no surprise because of the quality of the player," said Kenny Dalglish of his centre-forward. "Luis is a fantastic player and a fantastic person and we're very fortunate to have him playing for us. When he plays like that it is very difficult for anyone to stop him." Suárez may be a divisive character but it is hard to disagree with that last assessment.