By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Luis Suarez hit a clinical hat-trick as Liverpool thrashed West Bromwich Albion 4-1 at Anfield to keep pace with Premier League leaders Arsenal while champions Manchester United narrowly escaped another setback on Saturday.
Suarez scored twice in five first-half minutes and again after the break to keep Liverpool two points behind Arsenal, who prevailed 2-0 at Crystal Palace in an early kickoff despite having goalscorer Mikel Arteta sent off.
Dark clouds were gathering over Old Trafford where champions Manchester United twice trailed Stoke City before late goals by Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez earned them a 3-2 victory, staving off a fourth league defeat of the season.
Surprise package Southampton beat Fulham 2-0 in the day's late action, rising to the giddy heights of third in the table above Everton who won 2-0 at Aston Villa where Romelu Lukaku outshone fellow Belgian Christian Benteke with his side's first.
Southampton, for whom Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez scored, and Everton are four points behind Arsenal.
Chelsea would move above Liverpool with victory over Manchester City on Sunday.
Suarez's first home hat-trick for Liverpool and a brilliant effort by Daniel Sturridge underlined the Merseysiders top-four credentials this season and left manager Brendan Rodgers saluting what is becoming a lethal partnership.
"I think it was his first hat-trick here at Anfield and you saw his commitment to the team and what we're trying to do," Rodgers said. "It was a wonderful performance.
"Daniel Sturridge's goal - you used to see goals like that here many years ago; top quality players scoring those types of goals, Kenny (Dalglish) and whatnot. That type of goal today was incredible."
Liverpool have lost only one of their last 17 league matches and once Suarez jinked past two defenders and fired a shot past Boaz Myhill after 12 minutes they did not look back.
Suarez began the season still completing a 10-match ban for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in April, but has made up for lost time, scoring six goals in four league games since returning to the Liverpool attack.
He headed his second on Saturday after 17 minutes and completed his haul when he connected with Steven Gerrard's free kick after 55 minutes to make it 3-0.
West Brom pulled one back with a James Morrison penalty but Sturridge then got in on the act with an audacious lob.
Arsenal hit back from their disappointment in the Champions League against Borussia Dortmund with a scrappy win against a Crystal Palace side reeling from the departure of manager Ian Holloway in midweek.
Without being anywhere near their fluent best, Arsenal were comfortable winners thanks to Arteta's penalty just after halftime and a late header from Olivier Giroud.
They did have some anxious moments, however, after Arteta was dismissed for taking down Marouane Chamakh when the former Arsenal striker seemed set for a run on goal.
"These are the kind of games where you need the points, we were mature, resilient, well-organised and in the end we got the second goal which was a relief," manager Arsene Wenger said.
"I thought honestly we were unlucky to be down to 10 men and needed to be patient."
United were less than 15 minutes away from further humiliation when they trailed Stoke City 2-1 at Old Trafford but goals from Rooney and Hernandez showed that while United may have said goodbye to Alex Ferguson, the team's penchant for the late escapes that were his trademark, remains.
"I was going to say that I hope it was the first of many (comebacks)," a relieved David Moyes said. "Still, I'd rather have a late comeback than a defeat.
"I thought that we kept going, we tried everything today. We made mistakes and our goalkeeper kept us in the game at times today, but we kept knocking on that door trying to find a way through and eventually we did do."
Peter Crouch gave Stoke City a shock early lead at Old Trafford and despite Robin Van Persie's equaliser, United still trailed at the interval when Marko Arnautovic's curling free kick silenced the restless home crowd.
Stoke were heading for their first league win at Old Trafford since 1976 before their late collapse which left their manager, former United striker Mark Hughes, frustrated.
"I certainly felt in the first half we could have been three or 4-1 to the good in terms of chances created," he said.
"I didn't think United created much apart from the key moments that took the game away from us." (Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Clare Lovell and Alison Wildey)