Luis Suarez turned from fallen villain to soaring hero, lacing a poignant day with pure artistry to ensure his first Anfield hat-trick.
Asked for one word to describe Liverpool’s superstar, manager Brendan Rodgers didn’t hesitate. ‘Magic,’ he replied.
Further up the Liverpool hierarchy, owner J.W Henry had apparently tweeted the word ‘magician’ to describe Suarez too. These days, everyone is singing from the same hymn-sheet at Anfield.
Having opened the scoring following a jinking run, Suarez then added two towering headers to his collection. Throw into the mix an amazing overhead effort, tipped onto the bar by Boaz Myhill with 10 minutes left, and you were reminded why Suarez is rightly rated among the very best strikers in the world.
Not to be overshadowed entirely, his strike-partner Daniel Sturridge scored the finest goal of the afternoon, a sumptuous chip.
Together Suarez and Sturridge now have 21 goals since January and 16 this season... and it’s still October. The most controversial of the two strikers was fastest out of the blocks. Dive, goal, goal. All within the first 20 minutes.
From that point on it was only a question of whether the Uruguayan would complete his master-class with a hat-trick. We had the answer after 55 minutes, when he found fresh impetus and spring in his legs to rise high for his third from a Steven Gerrard’s cross.
Any hopes West Brom had of repeating their last season’s successes over Liverpool were soon dashed. This West Brom team lacked the hunger of previous sides and seemed to have been poorly selected, with the fading Nicolas Anelka its blunt spearhead. Only once did Anelka look likely to score but he was denied by Martin Skrtel in first-half injury-time.
‘We started too slowly,’ acknowledged West Brom head coach Steve Clarke. As for trying to stop Suarez, he forced a smile as he admitted: ‘It was difficult three times, anyway.’
The only man who could stop Suarez initially was Suarez himself. He collapsed absurdly because of a minor tug on his shirt by Gareth McAuley and then fell to his knees and prayed to the heavens, as though he still felt the whole of English football was conspiring against him. Perhaps his sense of injustice even inspired him to have the last laugh.
Suarez the magician reappeared, the destroyer of defences with a feint here, a nutmeg there and a familiar, well-placed finish.
With a passable impression of Bambi, Albion captain Jonas Olsson had opened his legs so wide that Suarez only had to accept the invitation, push the ball through and fire his first goal of the match.
The second came before there was much chance to draw breath. Suarez surged forward again, delivered a switch-pass to Aly Cissokho, and received the return in the air. He took the header so early that it flew past Myhill from the edge of the box. ‘An unbelievable finish,’ said Clarke. His team seemed to sense from the start that they were to be subjected to a thrashing, and the icing on the cake came with plenty of time to spare, with a second wonderful header as he met Gerrard’s set piece.
‘A top, top, top, top player,’ said Rodgers of his captain, a fitting response to Sir Alex Ferguson’s criticism of the Liverpool midfielder. And it was important for Gerrard to offer that assist on a day when he pointed out in his programme notes that his cousin. Jon-Paul Gilhooley, would have been 35 had he survived the Hillsborough disaster.
With a free-kick just wide and another shot bringing further acrobatics from Myhill, this was an afternoon when Suarez could even have been celebrating a double hat-trick by the end of this scintillating afternoon.
And yet Albion had begun to work their way back into the match and deserved their reply through a James Morrison penalty, awarded after Cissokho fouled Billy Jones.
Morrison had already come close when Kolo Toure cleared his goalbound header and Gareth McAuley might have scored too.
However, as Clarke acknowledged, ‘The goal from Sturridge was sublime and killed the game for us.’
Shortly before he was substituted, Suarez was seen sarcastically applauding a linesman who had judged against him. There will always be a little bit of devil in the hero of the day. Yet, if he can control his demons, Liverpool might well return to the Champions League next season.
Liverpool (4-1-3-2): Mignolet; Johnson (Kelly 62min), Toure, Skrtel, Sakho; Lucas; Henderson, Gerrard (Allen 86), Cissokho; Sturridge, Suarez (Alberto 89). Subs (not used): Brad Jones, Agger, Moses, Sterling.
West Brom (4-2-3-1): Myhill; Billy Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Mulumbu, Yacob (Brunt 69); Amalfitano (Morrison 45), Sessegnon, Anichebe; Anelka (Long 69). Subs (not used): Lugano, Daniels, Vydra, Berahino. Booked: Yacob, Olsson.
Referee: J Moss (West Yorkshire). – Mail On Sunday