Liverpool striker Luis Suarez steamed ahead in the race for the golden boot with a hat-trick as woeful Wigan Athletic were dispatched at the DW Stadium.

The Uruguayan international followed in some illustrious footsteps by becoming the third Reds player to score 20 or more in a Premier League season after Robbie Fowler (25) and Fernando Torres (24). With ten matches to go it seems inconceivable he will not surpass those efforts as it looks like a straight race between him and Manchester United's Robin van Persie (19), whom he now leads by two in the battle to become the top-flight's leading scorer.

Stewart Downing's free header to open the scoring in only the second minute set the tone but his effort, created by his clever movement and good delivery by January signing Philippe Coutinho was almost forgotten as Suarez again took centre-stage.

Manager Brendan Rodgers had expressed his confidence earlier in the week that the striker would not be tempted to seek Champions League football in the summer but on this form - 29 goals for the season - it would be remiss of Europe's elite if they did not launch all-out offensives to at least try to lure him away.

Had Wigan's leading scorer Arouna Kone shown a semblance of his opposite number's sharpness the hosts could have been ahead with their first attack but the Ivory Coast striker failed to properly test Pepe Reina. Downing made them pay as he lost his marker in the penalty area to head home a cross from the impressive Coutinho, making only his third appearance since joining from Inter Milan.

The young Brazilian provided the assist for the 18th-minute second, from Steven Gerrard's initial pass, with a perfectly-weighted ball into path of Suarez whose control was instant and finish clinical. Coutinho's clipped pass over the top almost put Gerrard in for a third before Suarez doubled his tally with a mixture of brilliance and good fortune.

Gary Caldwell clattered the Uruguayan who, after scoring two brilliant free-kicks against Zenit St Petersburg in his last appearance, stepped up again. He slipped as he connected with the ball but his shot had enough power and curl on it to clip Shaun Maloney on the edge of the wall and beat Ali Al Habsi with the help of the post.

Liverpool were in unfamiliar territory, 3-0 up with 55 minutes remaining and their dominance fully rewarded, but still they ploughed forward and Suarez's shot was blocked by the Wigan goalkeeper with Caldwell doing just enough to put off Joe Allen.

Suarez finishes his hat-trick
But for all Suarez's excellence had it not been for the brilliance of goalkeeper Reina it may have been a less comfortable evening. The Spainish international, having one of his better games this season, had already saved one-handed from Emmerson Boyce's volley in the 21st minute with the score at 2-0 when he superbly tipped over Franco Di Santo's header from Jean Beausejour's cross. Reina also denied Beausejour's free-kick on the stroke of half-time before normal service was resumed just four minutes into the second half.

Glen Johnson set off on what is increasingly under Rodgers' tutelage becoming a trademark surge forward which allowed him to advance more than 40 yards before picking the opportune moment to slide in Suarez. From the position the striker was in on the right of the area a goal would not normally be a foregone conclusion but the form he is currently in meant there was only going to be one winner between him and Al Habsi as the Omani international lost again.

With Liverpool in cruise control and, understandably, taking their foot off the gas slightly allowed the hosts to improve - although they could not have got much worse - and Reina again showed his agility to deny Maloney's close-range header.

Victory ensured Liverpool closed the gap on fourth place to nine but with Tottenham playing Arsenal tomorrow it could be back to ten again very soon. At the other end of the table Wigan still have plenty of work to do as they remain above the relegation zone on goal difference - significantly damaged by this result.