Phil Jagielka scored a sensational injury-time goal to rescue a point for Everton against Liverpool in the Merseyside derby at Anfield. Steven Gerrard’s second-half free-kick appeared to have settled what was for the most part a rare uneventful meeting between the two rivals from across Stanley Park. Instead whatever Liverpool’s captain could do, Jagielka showed he could do even better, by blasting an unstoppable shot into the top corner of the net in the 91st minute.

The dramatic climax came in sharp contrast to much of what came before. In comparison to the recent all-action entertainment this rivalry has produced, this was a much more sedate affair. Evidence of both teams’ wariness about a continuation of their recent poor defensive records was on show, particularly from Everton, which came into the match having shipped 17 goals in seven matches. With Liverpool still missing Daniel Sturridge and Everton forced to do without Kevin Mirallas after a first-half hamstring injury, neither side was at their most fluid going forward.

While the first half had been lively, if hardly breathless, the second began flatly. It took another in a long line of memorable strikes by Gerrard to break the deadlock, although Howard will again come under scrutiny after getting a full glove to the shot but being unable to keep it out. Mario Balotelli could have settled the result, but saw Howard in part redeem himself with a save onto the crossbar. Still, Everton showed little sign of being able to find a way back into the contest. It was going to take something spectacular to bring them level, and, with a 25-yeard-screamer for his first goal since April 2013, that’s exactly what Jagielka produced.

It could be a crucial goal, too. A win would have given Liverpool a springboard after starting the season with three defeats from their first five Premier League games. Instead they remain marooned in midtable and just a point above their near rivals. For Everton, while defeat would have been a massive blow and left them right around the relegation zone, they now have a major catalyst to build upon.

The high-tempo opening at Anfield suggested that the recent glut of goal produced in Merseyside derbies was set to continue. There could and likely should have been penalties at both ends in the opening 10 minutes. Romelu Lukaku, starting on the right of the attack, was dragged down by Alberto Moreno after cutting inside the Spanish left-back, while Gareth Barry escaped sanction for Raheem Sterling’s shot hitting his arm when it was raised above his head. Indeed, Barry was fortunate to still be on the pitch, having been booked inside the opening two minutes and also dishing out another meaty challenge in the opening exchanges.

It was Liverpool that were having the better of things early on. After Balotelli’s free-kick was turned behind, Howard had to produce another save to block Adam Lallana’s free header from a corner. But Everton soon got a foothold, with Roberto Martinez clearly going to great lengths to insure his side’s leaky defense was shored up. Mohamed Besic made his first Premier League start in a reinforced midfield alongside Barry and James McCarthy, while Tony Hibbert’s first start since December 2012 allowed the impressive John Stones to move into the middle in place Sylvain Distin.

But a continuation of Barry’s poor 45 minutes threatened to undo the visitors’ game plan. Right before halftime, the veteran midfielder gifted possession straight to Jordan Henderson, who found Sterling breaking in from the left and Howard had to be alert to block an effort behind. That was a rare occurrence for Liverpool getting in behind the Everton backline, however. Lazar Markovic again struggled to impose himself in the Premier League and Balotelli failed to provide the same high energy leading the line as Sturridge and Luis Suarez last season.

What efforts were coming in from either side were largely speculative ones that were simple for the two goalkeepers to handle. That was until Gerrard stepped forward. The precise strike and the celebrations that followed temporarily breathed fresh life into Liverpool and the contest as a whole. Within two minutes of the opening goal there were chances at both ends. First, Lukaku, who remained out on the right despite Everton being unable to hit Liverpool quickly in transition to make his positioning count, completely missed a free header in front of goal. An even better chance followed at the other end, but Balotelli failed to make it count from Sterling’s pinpoint cross. The miss appeared unlikely to be pivotal, with Liverpool maintaining their lead with a degree of comfort. But there was no accounting for or stopping a goal that Jagielka will never forget.