Michael Owen scored four goals to rout West Bromwich, take his Premiership tally past 100 and keep Liverpool in the hunt for a place in the Champions League next season.
Owen started the day on 98 top-flight goals, became only the 10th player to make it past the 100 mark in the Premiership and finished the afternoon one ahead of Matt Le Tissier in that exclusive list. Small wonder Liverpool want to tie him to a long-term contract this summer, even though he still has two years of his deal to run.
Rarely will Owen have an easier afternoon's work. Not only were Albion already relegated but they had to play without a recognised central defender because of injuries and a family bereavement to Larus Sigurdsson. Owen took advantage in a big way to score four in a game for the second time in his career. Milan Baros also benefited as he scored the other two in a demolition that might have been even more comprehensive and humiliating.
"That was men against boys," admitted the Albion manager, Gary Megson. "In being already relegated we were an accident waiting to happen and it did today - we had players just going through the motions out there. But Owen was marvellous, we just could not handle his pace."
Liverpool remain fifth, just outside the Champions League places, but are now level on points with Chelsea, who they play at Stamford Bridge on the last day of the season. More importantly, they have hit form at just the right time - after a drubbing at Manchester United they have won four on the trot to reignite their hopes of a third successive campaign among Europe's elite.
"I'm pleased the boys have taken up the challenge," said Liverpool's manager, Gerard Houllier, "and I think that the team is earning the right to qualify for the Champions League. Michael's all-round game has improved a lot and there is a humility about him that I like. He never gets carried away."
Liverpool went in at the interval only one goal to the good and in danger of letting Albion back into the match because of complacency born of domination. But two goals in the opening four minutes of the second half settled the matter and presaged the rout to come.
Owen's goals were those of a striker at the top of his form. First he simply ran past Neil Clement to score, then bundled in his landmark 100th goal from close range. He started and finished his hat-trick goal, sending Baros clear and tapping in the return pass. His fourth came courtesy of an exhilarating burst of pace and an exquisite defence-splitting ball from Danny Murphy.
The only Liverpool player who perhaps did not enjoy the afternoon was substitute Emile Heskey, who saw Baros take his place in the starting line-up and then link up brilliantly with Owen. He also helped himself to two goals of his own. The first came from another goalmouth scramble, his second late on came after he ran on to Steven Gerrard's through-ball.
And Megson was right when he admitted the rout could have extended to double figures. Baros was the main offender in terms of profligacy, three times giving Albion goalkeeper Russell Hoult a chance in one-on-one situations. But Liverpool's late-season determination was epitomised in the 90th minute when Sami Hyypia cleared off the line from Jason Roberts, in Albion's one clear chance of the afternoon, to preserve a clean sheet. Liverpool may yet rue their mid-term collapse but a ninth away victory of the season was mightily impressive.
West Brom: Hoult, Balis, Gregan (Jordao 86), Wallwork (James Chambers 55), Clement, Johnson, McInnes, Koumas, Udeze (Lyttle 73), Dichio, Roberts.
Subs Not Used: Murphy, Dobie.
Liverpool: Dudek, Carragher, Hyypia, Traore, Riise (Diao 79), Diouf (Heskey 69), Murphy (Cheyrou 83), Hamann, Gerrard, Owen, Baros.
Subs Not Used: Smicer, Arphexad.
Goals: Owen 15, Baros 47, Owen 49, 61, 67, Baros 84.
Ref: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).
© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited