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Kop that!

Dean Saunders fired a red-hot hat-trick at sub-zero Anfield to send Liverpool through to the UEFA Cup quarter-finals next March and write his own name into the club's record books.

Saunders' treble took his European tally to nine in just three games this season to beat the record of seven set by Roger Hunt 26 years ago.

Saunders scored four times in the first round with Kuusysi Lahti, two more in Innsbruck, and then added three more against the Austrians this time around.

Saunders has now scored 13 goals this season with two more coming in the Rumbelows Cup but he has scored just twice in the league, with his last coming way back on August 31 against Merseyside neighbours Everton.

His lack of goals in the first division has seen criticism heaped on the 2.9 million pound British record signing's shoulders but his European exploits have helped silence Saunders' detractors.

The Welsh international's first goal came in the 39th minute and started with a quick throw out from goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar as Liverpool turned defence swiftly into attack.

Grobbelaar found David Burrows out wide who then fed Steve McManaman. He passed it on to Jan Molby on the burst and his through ball was perfect for Saunders, who fired a low right foot shot past goalkeeper Milan Oraze.

That equalled Hunt's record and Saunders should have shattered it just two minutes after the re-start when he had time and space in the Tirol area but lifted his shot over from 16 yards.

But the record, set by Hunt in Liverpool's European Cup campaign in the 1964-65 season, went in the 57th minute when the Welshman pounced to score with a shot on the turn after Mark
Wright had prodded on a Mike Marsh corner.

Saunders completed his hat-trick in the 67th minute when he again made the perfect run, this time on to a Marsh through ball, and nonchalantly chipped the ball over the stranded Oraze to complete a superb treble and pull further ahead of Hunt's previous record.

Saunders then turned provider for substitute Barry Venison, back in action after 10 months out with Achilles trouble, who added Liverpool's fourth with six minutes remaining.

Venison, whose last first team match was the FA Cup fifth round second replay at Everton last February, drove an unstoppable shot past Oraze to announce his return in dramatic style and how the Kop loved it even if the Anfield attendance was a disappointing 16,007.

But while Venison savoured the moment the night belonged to Saunders, whose brilliance warmed the Liverpool faithful on a freezing night.

A delighted Graeme Souness said: "He has been hammered by a lot of people who I felt were unfair to him. Any striker is judged in black and white terms on the goals they score and that's the only position like that. He is an intelligent boy and sensitive and I'm sure it has stunned him. No-one likes criticism but the way to prove the doubting Thomases wrong is by scoring goals out on the park. He did that tonight, he scored a hat-trick and I'm very proud of him. I just wish someone would spend 3 million pounds something for somebody and that would be a burden off him."

Copyright -  British Soccer Week



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