Tim Cahill’s late header has salvaged a 1-1 draw for Everton against Liverpool and prevented the cross-town rival from returning to the top of the Premier League.
The Reds had taken the lead through Steven Gerrard’s strike on Tuesday and were three minutes from leapfrogging Manchester United when Cahill sent a glancing header from Victor Anichebe’s ball past Pepe Reina after Yossi Benayoun had conceded a needless free kick.
“We are very disappointed because with three minutes to go we were winning the game,” Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said. “We have lost two points at home,but we are still level on points with United.
“We have to be positive. It is a long race and we are in three competitions (the Premier League,Champions League and FA Cup) and fighting for everything.”
Gerrard’s fierce strike past Tim Howard in the 68th minute looked to have settled the 209th Merseyside derby. But with strikers Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane substituted by the time Cahill pounced,a late winner from lone striker Dirk Kuyt never looked likely.
“It is great for the team — it is good reward for the effort of the team,” Cahill said. “They worked very hard for that.”
While a fifth draw of the season at Anfield still put them level on 47 points with United,Alex Ferguson’s defending champions have a superior goal difference and a game in hand and have dropped just two points at home compared to Liverpool’s 10.
Recent slip-ups have allowed United,with three consecutive wins,to take control of the title race for the first time this season,casting doubts over Benitez’s ability to deliver Liverpool’s first English championship since 1990.
Benitez’s preparations were overshadowed by another bout of internal feuding,which saw the Spaniard rejecting a new contract because it did not give him full control over transfers.
Benitez had reacted angrily to Ferguson’s assertion that nerves would cause Liverpool’s title challenge to falter,but his side is providing considerable evidence to support the 67-year-old Scot’s assertions.
Just 55 seconds had elapsed when Everton forced Pepe Reina into his first save,with Victor Anichebe bringing the ball down on his chest and unleashing a low volley.
Liverpool’s attempts at creativity were thwarted by Everton’s physical approach,with challenges on Gerrard by Phil Neville,Joleon Lescott and Mikel Arteta unpunished by referee Howard Webb. Dirk Kuyt,Robbie Keane and Martin Skrtel were also fouled without any bookings.
The Toffees posed little threat until a quick counterattack ended with Cahill’s header saved by Reina at the far post.
Liverpool’s best chance came after the half-hour mark when Torres — starting for the first time since November after hamstring troubles — latched onto Sami Hyypia’s deep ball and beat two defenders,but he chipped wide of the onrushing Howard.
As snow flurries descended on the field,Reina was called into action again to block Leon Osman’s shot before halftime. While Liverpool dominated possession in the first period,Everton had more efforts on target.
The Reds sought to correct that after the break,with Albert Riera quickly letting fly from 25 meters with a shot that swerved wide.
Torres was appealing for a penalty inside two minutes when hauled down by Phil Jagielka. Gerrard had a shot spilled by Howard and as Hyypia raced in to connect with the rebound,Leighton Baines made a decisive block.
Everton thought Webb should have awarded a penalty when Martin Skrtel tangled with Victor Anichebe in the 67th,but instead the visitors conceded shortly after for the first time since December 12.
Gerrard’s low strike from 20 meters to the right of Howard came at the start of the toughest week of Gerrard’s career,with the Anfield stalwart appearing in court Friday after being charged over a bar brawl last month,and then facing Everton again Sunday.