London: Clint Dempsey became the first American to score a hat-trick in the English Premier League as he steered Fulham to an astonishing 5-2 comeback victory over Newcastle on Saturday.
Dempsey completed the second hat-trick of his five-year career in English football in a 30-minute span in the second half, just two weeks after scoring the first - against Charlton in the FA Cup on January 7.
Newcastle dominated the opening 45 minutes and a superb drive from around 25 yards from Danny Guthrie put the visitors deservedly 1-0 ahead at half-time.
But Danny Murphy leveled from the penalty spot in the 52nd minute and Dempsey struck twice - his first being his 50th goal for Fulham - to leave the home side firmly in control.
Bobby Zamora converted another spot-kick in the 68th minute before Dempsey completed his hat-trick in the 89th. Hatem Ben Arfa had pulled a goal back for Newcastle by then.
His latest feat took Dempsey to a career-best 15 goals this season, two more than his previous best last season, and a total of 52 since the 28-year-old forward joined Fulham from New England Revolution in January 2007.
"We never found our rhythm in the first half but we began to get into their penalty area in the second half," Dempsey said after taking his Premier League tally to nine goals. "Danny Murphy scored the first goal and then we kept going and going. Luckily the ball kept going in. We never took our foot off the gas and we took our chances."
Fulham manager Martin Jol was delighted with the American's performance and was keen for it continue as the team moved eight points away from the relegation zone.
"Clint Dempsey is our topscorer," Jol said. "He is doing what he does best. Clint scores goals and if he can score 12 goals this year and some other players do, we will be fine."
Coming into the match, Jol spoke of making amends for last weekend's 3-1 defeat at 10-man Blackburn, but his side struggled to stamp their authority during the opening exchanges.
Fulham's difficult opening period got worse when Steve Sidwell - one of Fulham's better players - limped off in the 37th minute to be replaced by Andrew Johnson, forcing Jol to alter his tactics.
The substitute partnered Zamora in attack as the home side moved to a 4-4-2 formation, although they could not stop Newcastle dominating, with Guthrie finding the net as half-time approached.
Jol made his second alteration of the afternoon at the break, replacing Bryan Ruiz with Chris Baird. The change saw Fulham become a more coherent unit and brought a penalty within six minutes, when Damien Duff was brought down. Murphy sent keeper Tim Krul the wrong way with the resulting penalty.
Fulham turned up the pressure and, after neat interplay between Johnson and Zamora, Krul parried the latter's shot across goal and Dempsey bundled home at the far post.
Baird fired a 35-meter effort over as the hosts pressed for a third goal, which duly arrived in the 65th minute. More neat interplay between Fulham's strikers started the move as Johnson laid off to Zamora and he played through Dempsey, who showed real composure to fire across Krul.
Fulham netted a fourth three minutes later when Johnson shrugged off a rough challenge by Mike Williamson before being hauled down by Krul, who received a booking and was then beaten from the spot by Zamora.
Fulham sat back as the game wore on and Newcastle pulled a goal back five minutes from time when Ben Arfa jinked past John Arne Riise to fire home, although Dempsey soon ended any hopes with his hat-trick goal.
A day after he was voted player of the year by the US Soccer Federation, the Texan burst through the middle to latch onto Zamora's chipped pass and fire past Krul.
In other matches on Saturday, Chelsea squandered a chance to trim the gap on the Premier League pacesetters, drawing 0-0 at Norwich on a day when Liverpool also stumbled to away defeats in their pursuit of a top-four finish.
Qualifying for the Champions League may be Chelsea's main target now, so news of Liverpool's 3-1 defeat at Bolton and Newcastle's 5-2 loss at Fulham will have been welcome.
At the other end of the standings, bottom team Wigan's plight worsened by losing 3-1 at Queens Park Rangers — their 13th defeat in 22 games.
Heidar Helguson, Akos Buzsaky and Tommy Smith were the goalscorers for QPR, with Colombia striker Hugo Rodallega replying for Wigan.
Ireland striker Robbie Keane grabbed a second-half double - his second in the 84th minute proving to be the winner - as Aston Villa rallied to beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-2.
Keane was making his starting debut after moving to Villa on a short-term loan deal from Los Angeles Galaxy.
Villa's Darren Bent scored his 99th Premier League goal from the penalty spot in the 10th minute of the Midlands derby, but Michael Kightly leveled with a low drive and David Edwards made it 2-1 to the hosts in the 31st minute.
Keane equalized after 52 minutes on his full Villa debut, swiveling round to drill home a low shot. However, the Irishman did not celebrate the goal against the club where he started his career, despite the boos he received throughout the game.
Wolves were reduced to 10 men in the 75th minute when Karl Henry was sent off for kicking winger Marc Albrighton, who was on the ground. They later paid the price as Keane, who is on a two-month loan from the Galaxy, smashed home the winner in the 84th minute with an unstoppable shot.
The result left Villa in mid-table security, while Wolves are still mired in the relegation zone after their sequence without a league win was extended to eight games.
Sunderland beat Swansea 2-0, Blackburn grabbed a 1-1 draw at Everton, dropping into the Premier League's relegation zone, and West Bromwich Albion claimed a first win in 2012 by beating Stoke 2-1.
Australia midfielder Tim Cahill went from hero to villain for Everton, opening the scoring against Blackburn with his first goal in 13 months but then seeing his goal-line clearance strike visiting forward David Goodwillie in the chest and rebound into the net for the equalizer.
Cahill had tucked the ball home from close range in the 24th, although there was a suspicion of handball from Marouane Fellaini in the build-up.
Everton manager David Moyes acknowledged his team was lucky to emerge with a point.
"Blackburn had the better of the first half and we were certainly fortunate to go in 1-0 up," Moyes said. "But I hoped that once we got it, even though it wasn't one of our better days, we could have hung on to it."
Stephane Sessegnon and Craig Gardner scored for Sunderland as the team's revival under new manager Martin O'Neill continued.
Graham Dorrans' was the match-winner for West Brom at Stoke, his injury-time free kick through a crowd of players bringing the team a first league win since December 21.