On the face of it, this was a forgettable day for Everton.
Defeat in the 240th Merseyside derby, coupled with Burnley’s victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers, means Frank Lampard’s team finish the weekend in the Premier League’s bottom three.
It would be a mistake nevertheless to eliminate this performance at Anfield from the memory banks.
Everton faithfully and efficiently adhered to manager Lampard’s gameplan, suffocating Liverpool in the middle of the pitch and raiding down the flanks.
The outstanding Anthony Gordon had a valid penalty claim and came close with a strike narrowly past the post after half-time.
Abdoulaye Doucoure was marginally off target from a promising position in the opening half, while Demarai Gray sent a long ranger flashing wide as Everton tried to respond to falling behind.
Liverpool, meanwhile, struggled to convert possession into clear openings, Jordan Pickford in Everton’s goal only really extended when the hosts had their tails up immediately after Andrew Robertson’s 62nd-minute goal.
Divock Origi headed in Liverpool’s second goal with five minutes remaining, as Everton began taking more risks in the hunt for an equaliser.
The result, then, qualifies as a painful body blow. No derby defeat could be viewed in any other terms.
But there are greater issues at play for Everton over the next month. There is no option but to draw confidence from a bright and brave and disciplined performance.
They have one game in hand over Burnley and six to play in all. Approach those matches in this vein, beginning with a visit from Chelsea next week, and Everton’s survival chances immediately increase.
Worth noting, too, Lampard’s side have seven points from their past three home games and it’s back to Goodison Park next week.
Everton can scarcely have entered one of these fixtures with their backs more firmly pressed to the wall.
Forgetting the parochial nature of the contest for a moment, Everton were visiting a side entering the closing leg of a Premier League title bid.
There was confirmation of three points for Burnley shortly before kick-off at Anfield, too, to add to the significance of the contest.
The first question observers wanted answering, then, concerned Everton’s ability to withstand the mental pressure attached to their task.
That enquiry was answered with some conviction. Indeed, Everton’s combative and organised football appeared to catch their hosts off guard.
Everton stuffed the central areas with blue shirts, forcing Liverpool into a succession of blind alleys.
Thiago, the home midfielder, nearly paid a heavy price for embarking on one such fool’s errand.
The Spaniard, dawdling on the ball, had possession pilfered from him by Richarlison, who looked up to see Doucoure – restored to Everton’s team following two matches on the bench – advancing beyond the Liverpool backline.
Doucoure, accompanied by Joel Matip as he progressed into the box, dragged his attempt wide of the far post.
Liverpool, meantime, were increasingly forced to pass long in a bid to overcome Everton pressure.
Salah, typically, was the target. The nimble Egyptian, however, thwarted by one tremendously-timed Vitalii Mykolenko challenge on eight minutes, routinely meandered infield to be met by traffic.
Allan, stationed at the back of Everton’s midfield, consistently extinguished fires, intercepting and tackling and generally making a nuisance of himself.
Doucoure, too, refused to yield ground in a combative engine room.
Twice in the opening half, tempers spilled over into full-on confrontations between the teams.
Gordon was booked after falling in the penalty area with Naby Keita in close attendance, both sets of players taking umbrage at the episode, for contrasting reasons.
Docuoure’s trip on Fabinho, as Liverpool rotated the ball with Richarlison prone, sparked a similar crowd scene two minutes before half-time.
Everton spoiled when they could, yes, employing tactics designed to get under the skin of the home players and supporters.
The visitors’ ability to frustrate was summed up by a caption displayed on Sky Sports after 32 minutes, informing viewers Liverpool had 91 per cent of the ball in the previous 10 minutes.
The home side’s chances in that period amounted to Diogo Jota’s side-foot wide from Robertson’s cross and a shot on the spin from Sadio Mane that zipped over the top.
There was a free-kick for Liverpool in there, too, Jota escaping punishment for a rogue forearm in the face of Seamus Coleman, as Everton’s captain smothered the Portuguese.
Robertson aimed for Virgil van Dijk with the dead ball but Mason Holgate, on his 100th Premier League start, headed behind.
Lampard had warned about the imperative of not simply returning possession to Liverpool when Everton had the ball.
And the away team’s passing intent and quality were up to snuff.
Gordon dispossessed Trent Alexander-Arnold, taking far too long to play a ball up the line after five minutes.
The Everton forward burst through two challenges before being illegally upended 25 yards from goal.
Demarai Gray took the free-kick and was still railing at the heavens 60 second s later following a strike directed into the wall.
Arch-antagonist Richarlison fed Gray on another counter, the attacker weaving across the box, dodging countless challenges, but finding a defensive body with the shot.
Gordon, who made his first Premier League start against Liverpool in June 2020 and matched up well against Alexander-Arnold, was giving the full-back a run for his money, once more.
The 21-year-old Everton player showed Alexander-Arnold a clean pair of heels as the pair chased a Docuoure pass, Gordon stopped only by a shove in the back.
The sides aimed three shots apiece in the first half, Liverpool’s final effort a wayward hit from Salah following Mane’s return pass.
Keita blazed over after Holgate cleared a corner following the restart, while Matip halted Alex Iwobi’s burst into the penalty area after Doucoure released pressure with a pass left.
Gordon had a very credible penalty shout after 53 minutes. There was a heavy hand on the shoulder from Matip prior to the Everton player’s fall, but the shove wasn’t sufficiently forceful to punish the defender, in the view of Stuart Attwell, the referee.
Iwobi lifted a ball over the top for Gordon three minutes later, the effort from the left of the area squirming inches beyond the back post.
Gordon was tormenting Liverpool, now. He was too quick and clever for Keita, leaving Alexander-Arnold to illegally halt a charge down the left. Iwobi was wide with a header from the resultant free-kick.
Everton, however, conceded the game’s first goal after 62 minutes.
The home team had not long introduced Origi and Luis Diaz – Keita and Mane making way – when Origi fed a ball back into the path of Salah.
Salah, entering the penalty area on the right, flipped a cross to the back post, where Robertson forced in his header.
All of a sudden, Everton had it all on to remain in contact with their opponents.
Pickford shovelled a ball clear after Diaz sped to the byline to cross.
The Everton keeper resisted a header from Matip, Salah over on the rebound, and Origi was off target with a flick from Alexander-Arnold’s delivery.
As matters settled, Everton began their pursuit of an equaliser.
Gordon shrugged off Matip to feed Iwobi, who continued infield to pass to Gray. His strike screamed narrowly past the left post.
Dele and Salomon Rondon were sent on in quick succession – replacing Allan and Gray, respectively – and when Dele scooted deep into Liverpool territory, the low cross needed clearing by Robertson, with Iwobi poised to convert.
Pickford dived right to turn behind Thiago’s deflected effort, as Everton progressively adopted a chancier approach.
And it was from the subsequent corner that Liverpool put the game to bed.
Jordan Henderson, another Liverpool substitute, collected the overhit delivery to swing a cross to the back post.
Diaz’s acrobatic attempt sent the ball rearing off the turf and, inadvertently, in the direction of Origi, who applied the finishing touch.