Liverpool produced a smash and grab Merseyside derby victory to claim fifth place in the Barclays Premier League on a day of raw tension at Goodison Park. But they will have sighed with relief after being pounded for almost all of this local showdown, somehow emerging with the points.
An own goal from Joseph Yobo, deflecting a Javier Mascherano effort past Tim Howard put Liverpool ahead at the break despite being almost permanently on the back foot as Everton poured forward. But their eighth win in their last ten visits to Goodison Park was secured with ten minutes to go when Dirk Kuyt scored from close range after another Yobo error.
Everton were the dominant force, but could not turn their pressure into goals, with Liverpool now having lost just two of their last 20 league games against the old enemy. Rarely can a Merseyside derby have been played out with both rival managers - David Moyes and Rafael Benitez - having had to handle questions over their longevity in their jobs.
The 212th match between these bitterest of rivals certainly held the immediate futures of both seriously under-achieving clubs. Everton, fighting to get away from the relegation zone and Liverpool desperate to put their distressing season back on track.
Everton made four changes from the side that lost so poorly at Hull City in midweek, Tony Hibbert, Jo, Marouane Fellaini and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov all returning with youngster Jack Rodwell the most notable omission with a groin injury.
Liverpool fielded the side that had won in Hungary against Debrecen, but could not save the Reds' UEFA Champions League lives. And again there was no Fernando Torres in the squad, leaving young striker David Ngog to continue his education in the unforgiving glare of a derby battlefield.
With so much at stake, the opening exchanges were even more ferocious than usual. Mascherano and Tim Cahill traded kicks and warnings from referee Alan Wiley, with Cahill finding himself dumped on the track by the Argentina captain. But it was Mascherano who was soon celebrating, having had a major part in Liverpool's 12th-minute lead.
Everton criminally allowed the midfielder to advance towards their box, where he lashed in a 20 yarder that deflected off Yobo and into the opposite corner than had been intended with Howard hopelessly wrong-footed. It was the lead Liverpool had craved, but one that ignited a fierce and sustained response from Everton.
Twice they had the ball in the net before the break, but two efforts by Jo were ruled out for offside, the second when Fellaini blocked Jose Reina right on the line. But there were other chances for Everton, with Bilyaletdinov managing to shoot wide from six yards when it would have been easier to score. Reina saved from the Russian winger, while the excellent Steven Pienaar was twice close as Everton surged forward in search of an equaliser they fully deserved.
Liverpool were barely noticeable up front, although Kuyt fired over and Howard made a fine save from Emiliano Insua's close-range header. But they were rare excursions into enemy territory for Liverpool in a one-sided first-half.
Everton came out after the break intent on more of the same. They hurled themselves at Liverpool's creaking defence in which Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger were working overtime to keep the blue waves at bay. Liverpool were hanging on under the most searching of examinations. Saha replaced Jo after 66 minutes, still Everton rolling relentlessly forward.
Yobo managed to deflect an Ngog effort wide, but that was a rare venture out by Liverpool. Reina produced a stunning double-save from Cahill and then Fellaini, Liverpool penned back and defending with increasing desperation.
In all of this, Steven Gerrard was a peripheral figure. Clearly short of pace and movement, he was unable to influence what was going on all around him, until taking a hand in the critical second goal.
Ngog was finally withdrawn with 15 minutes to go, Yossi Benayoun arriving to play on the right with Kuyt taking the central attacking role. Albert Riera was next into the fray, in place of Fabio Aurelio, somehow Liverpool still ahead. But with ten minutes left, all Everton's brave efforts came to nothing as Liverpool dealt them a sickening blow.
Reina's long clearance was headed down by Kuyt with Yobo slashing wildly at the ball. It fell to Gerrard who set up Riera for a shot that Howard pushed into the path of Kuyt, who stabbed home the second. Ayegbeni Yakubu came off for Cahill, and Lucas Neill for a crestfallen Yobo. But it was all over for Everton, who will never know how they lost this one.