Resurgent Liverpool swept Crystal Palace aside with three goals in the first 18 minutes as the return of John Barnes helped inspire them to their most convincing performance of the season.
The vibrant Barnes set up the first of Steve McManaman's two goals and only a fine fingertip save by Palace 'keeper Nigel Martyn, from a typically fiercely struck free-kick, denied the England winner a goal to crown his first full match of the season.
Liverpool's inspired performance will give nightmares to Palace's harassed defenders who have to come back to Anfield on Tuesday night in the last 16 of the Coca-Cola Cup.
Today's game was just nine minutes old when Barnes neatly found space for an inviting cross to McManaman whose looping header dipped just under the Palace bar.
Two minutes later Mike Marsh unleashed a magnificent 30-yard drive to put Liverpool firmly in the driving seat.
After 18 minutes Lee Sinnott's attempted header back to his 'keeper left Martyn stranded, McManaman taking the ball calmly round him to steer home the third goal.
Ronnie Rosenthal scored the fourth, hammering McManaman's cross powerfully home from close range after 62 minutes and Don Hutchison completed the rout, firing in from Marsh's low cross 15 minutes later.
Hutchison headed just wide and had another header well saved while McManaman and Jamie Redknapp went close and Palace skipper Eric Young was booked for holding back a surging Rosenthal run in a commanding Liverpool first-half.
Liverpool were lining up to pay tribute to Barnes after the game. Manager Graeme Souness said: "It's hard to single out anyone from that performance but you've got to mention John Barnes. He contributed to three of the goals and showed the sort of form I thought it would take him six or seven games down the road to achieve. He's obviously tired but he's a really good footballer - a top footballer. Maybe during six months out he's had a good look at the game and at himself. He's not 19 or 20 anymore and maybe he's going to have to adjust his game slightly. He's a senior player, an old head, and if there's anything we're a bit short of it is senior players helping the younger ones. The crowd are doing that and I asked the older players to do that as well."
"I thought we played very well today. The start we got helped us but we played some excellent football and were worthy winners. I though it was a thoroughly entertaining game. For a neutral or a Liverpool supporter to see young players like that excites me and I'm sure it excites everyone else."
Skipper Steve Nicol said: "John Barnes makes everyone else play. You could see all the young lads were enjoying it. Lifting your head and seeing John Barnes there is quite a nice thing to be able to do. He provides another option and makes it a lot easier for them. They all did their bit and were tremendous today - I enjoyed watching them! John is tired. It's only his second game back, but he's a strong lad."
Crystal Palace left the stadium just over half an hour after the final whistle and neither Steve Coppell nor his players attended the post-match press conference.
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