London - Steven Gerrard marked his 400th Premier League appearance with a hat trick on Tuesday, leading Liverpool to a 3-0 win over local rival Everton.
Gerrard opened the scoring in the 34th minute by curling a precise shot over three defenders and goalkeeper Tim Howard. The England midfielder then twice profited from good approach work by Luis Suarez, scoring in the 51st and in injury time.
Although a top-four place and Champions League qualification looks to be beyond Liverpool, the Reds are now five points clear of Everton and head into Sunday's FA Cup quarter-final against Stoke in high spirits.
"To beat Everton is always special, so to get three goals is a little bit extra," Gerrard said. "It was a great term performance. Everything we wanted from the game, we got it."
Liverpool has already won the League Cup and secured a return to continental competition next season. It now looks set to finish above Everton for a seventh straight season.
Gerrard looked to have missed the opportunity for his opening goal when he failed to control a forward pass from Suarez.
The ball instead went to Martin Kelly, who forced Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard into a double save. A rebound from the second save rolled to the feet of Gerrard on the edge of the area, from where the England midfielder scored with his less-favored left foot into the middle of the goal just under the bar.
Kelly could have made it 2-0 shortly after but shot across goal and past the far post.
The second goal came when Suarez beat Sylvain Distin on the byline to wriggle into the area and Gerrard took the ball off his team-mate's toes to score with a rising shot through a crowd of players.
Suarez then led a counterattack down the left and unselfishly opted to pass to the unmarked Gerrard for a straightforward finish from a central position.
"We need to find a level of consistency where we go on a winning streak, rather than win one and lose one, because otherwise we find ourselves in a position in the league that we don't want," Gerrard said.
In the second-tier League Championship, Reading moved up to second place with a 1-1 draw at Doncaster. Hull moved above Cardiff into the playoff places with a 3-0 win at the Welsh club, which lost last month's League Cup final to Liverpool in a shootout.