Liverpool's club record signing, Fernando Torres, sent a timely reminder to his manager, Rafael Benitez, with a stunning hat-trick against Reading.
Torres, omitted from Liverpool's past two Premier League games, struck three times in the second half to earn the Reds a place in the fourth round of the Carling Cup.
Liverpool took the lead in the 22nd minute through Yossi Benayoun, but Bobby Convey levelled five minutes later. Torres restored Liverpool's advantage straight from the restart, only for John Halls to haul Reading level once more. But Torres made the game safe with superb finishes in the 70th and 86th minutes.
"Will he start the next game? We will see. I cannot guarantee anything because I like to see my strikers during the week," said an unrepenant Benitez. "We have four strikers and if I say now that he will play, it will be easy for Wigan. I am only thinking about my team. Our supporters are very clever, they know that I am trying to do the best for the team.
"Fernando knows why he was left out. It was because of space. I didn't need to explain it too much. All the players want to play in every game. If you say to me that Dirk Kuyt is a worse striker or Peter Crouch is a worse striker or Andrei Voronin is a worse striker then I would play Torres every game. But because we have very good strikers, I like to choose the strikers for every game and if it is necessary to change I will change".
Reading should have gone in front in the 20th minute when a cross from Halls fell perfectly for Leroy Lita on the edge of the six-yard box, but the Reading striker failed to beat Liverpool's debutant goalkeeper, Charles Itandje.
Lita was left to regret his profligacy when a magnificent piece of individual skill from Benayoun put Liverpool into the lead in the 23rd minute. He went on a solo run before firing a right-footed shot high into the roof of the net.
Reading were level in the 27th minute, though, when Momo Sissoko's clearing header fell to Convey on the edge of the penalty area. The Reading winger's left-foot volley found its way through a ruck of players and past Itandje into the corner of the goal.
Torres, who had required treatment in the opening minute after a tackle by Andre Bikey, went down under a challenge from Michael Duberry in the 34th minute.
The Merseysiders were back in front in the 49th minute when Sebastian Leto sent Torres through the middle with a slide-rule pass. The Spaniard slipped the ball beyond Federici and into the corner of the net.
Reading, though, were far from finished. In the 64th minute Liverpool failed to deal with another Reading corner adequately enough and when the ball fell to Halls, his quick footwork allowed him to send a low shot into the corner of the net for their second equaliser of the night.
But Torres struck for a second time in the 70th minute when he converted a low cross from substitute John Arne Riise. Torres made sure of Liverpool's place in the fourth round when he finished off a fine pass from the substitute Steven Gerrard and rounded Adam Federici for his hat-trick.
Reading (4-4-2): Federici; Halls (Hunt, 80), Duberry, Bikey, Shorey; De la Cruz, Harper, Convey (Kitson, 80), Fae; Long (Henry, 79), Lita. Substitutes not used: Hahnemann (gk), Cisse.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Itandje; Finnan, Carragher, Lucas (Hobbs, 89), Aurelio (Riise, 69); Arbeloa, Benayoun, Sissoko, Leto; Crouch (Gerrard, 77), Torres. Substitutes not used: Martin, Putterill.
Referee: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).