Everton look certain to finish above Liverpool for the second season in succession after holding their rivals to a draw in the 220th Merseyside derby at Anfield.
Not since Bill Shankly took Liverpool into the top division in 1962 have the Reds finished behind Everton in consecutive years but Sunday's draw means they lag five points behind in seventh, with two games remaining.
Liverpool had the more presentable chances at Anfield, Philippe Coutinho and Steven Gerrard both impressing in midfield, but Everton were denied what looked a legitimate goal when Sylvain Distin saw a header ruled out in the second half.
And while they struggled to create much more in attack, Everton's robust defence, led by the commendable Phil Jagielka, secured a point which should ensure David Moyes enjoys local supremacy over Brendan Rodgers.
After eviscerating Newcastle 6-0 last weekend without the suspended Luis Suarez, Liverpool were naturally unchanged. Everton, meanwhile, made one tactical switch, Darron Gibson replacing Nikica Jelavic to boost midfield and leave Victor Anichebe as the lone striker.
A more cautious approach translated into a good start for Everton and they showed admirable intensity early on. Indeed, the visitors could have been in front after only 11 minutes when Marouane Fellaini held off his marker to meet a Leighton Baines free-kick with an outstretched leg, turning the ball just wide of the post.
Gerrard, a derby veteran like few others, was Liverpool's most influential player in the first half, whether making an important clearance in his own box or pinging a perfect 50-yard pass out to find Daniel Sturridge in the channels. Coutinho was also lively, the Brazilian floating behind Sturridge and dropping deep to good effect.
Coutinho's darting runs also posed Everton problems but after making one such venture into the box having played the ball square for Sturridge, the January signing was left frustrated when his team-mate opted instead to shoot wide, Sturridge's selfish streak becoming apparent once again with a number of wasted chances.
Liverpool were much more fluid in the final third and began to pin Everton back. On one occasion, only a superb block from Phil Jagielka prevented Gerrard from slotting a loose ball into the bottom corner, and the Everton defender excelled once again after 40 minutes when putting in a sensational challenge to stop Coutinho from converting in the box and keep it goalless at the break.
Coutinho has added an extra dimension to Liverpool's play since arriving from Inter in January and he demonstrated his impressive imagination again on 48 minutes when he played in Sturridge with a lovely little pass. The striker, though, was closed down quickly by Howard, who blocked his shot and then pushed him wide. Later Coutinho stung the palms of Howard with a tidy low effort.
Everton, by contrast, were struggling to construct any meaningful attacks, though they did have the ball in the net from a corner. Distin powered a header home at the back post but Victor Anichebe was apparently penalised for a phantom push on Reina in the build-up and his furious protestations earned him a booking.
Still Liverpool had the better of open play and on 73 minutes they went ever so close to an opening goal. Sturridge hared after the ball from the centre circle and slipped in Gerrard with a subtle pass. The skipper took the ball around Howard in the Everton goal but his effort was cleared off the line by Distin.
A late flicker of danger saw Reina bat the ball against his own bar following an awkward deflection but Everton would have been satisfied enough with a point that means sixth should be theirs.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Phil Jagielka (Everton) - Gerrard and Coutinho both impressed but it was the Everton defender who guaranteed a clean sheet for his side with two vital interventions.
LIVERPOOL: Reina 7, Johnson 7, Carragher 7, Agger 7, Enrique 6, Gerrard 8, Lucas 6, Downing 6, Henderson 6, Coutinho 8, Sturridge 6. Subs: Borini 6, Skrtel 6.
EVERTON: Howard 7, Coleman 6, Distin 8, Jagielka 8, Baines 6, Mirallas 6, Gibson 5, Osman 6, Pienaar 7, Fellaini 6, Anichebe 6. Subs: Jelavic 6.
- Sports & Recreation
- Phil Jagielka
- Steven Gerrard
- Philippe Coutinho
- Sylvain Distin
- Daniel Sturridge