Cahill's goal ensured Liverpool trail Manchester United on goal difference
Tim Cahill's late equaliser delivered a serious blow to Liverpool's Premier League title hopes and earned Everton a deserved draw in the Merseyside derby at Anfield.
Liverpool looked to be heading back to the top of the table after captain Steven Gerrard's trademark 25-yard finish gave them the lead on 68 minutes.
But Everton were resilient throughout, and Cahill glanced home Mikel Arteta's fiercely driven free-kick with only three minutes left to give David Moyes' side a battling point.
Fernando Torres missed Liverpool's best chance in the first half, clipping a post when clean through, but Pepe Reina also had to save well from Victor Anichebe's early strike and Cahill's header.
Liverpool paid the price for a cautious approach after Gerrard's spectacular strike put them in front, and they now stay second in the table behind Manchester United - level on points but having played a game more.
Benitez disappointed to concede late goal
Boss Benitez needed a win to restore normality to the Anfield atmosphere after his recent spats with United counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson and his own hierarchy.
But Everton were in no mood to leave Anfield empty-handed and set the stage perfectly for part two of the derby double-header in the FA Cup fourth round on Sunday.
Benitez delivered an upbeat message about Liverpool's title ambitions after watching his side squander a point, but this was a performance that merely confirmed that the title momentum has switched firmly in favour of champions United in the last 10 days.
Everton had the game's outstanding performer in defender Phil Jagielka, and once again made light of the handicap of being stripped of virtually all their striking resources.
Benitez employed his most expensive attacking weaponry by reuniting Torres and Robbie Keane up front in an attempt to breach an Everton defence who had kept six successive clean sheets.
Anichebe came in for the suspended Marouane Fellaini - and almost gave Everton a stunning start with a low 25-yard drive that had Liverpool keeper Reina scrambling to his left to save.
He then provided a cross for Cahill, whose header at the far post brought a fine save from the diving Reina.
Liverpool had enjoyed plenty of possession, but with Jagielka faultless, Everton's defence was in typically miserly mood.
Everton were opened up after 27 minutes when Torres wasted a perfect opportunity to break the deadlock.
The Spanish striker swooped on to Sami Hyypia's through ball as Everton's defence hesitated, but with only keeper Tim Howard to beat - and to the amazement of all inside Anfield - he clipped the outside of the post with his finish.
Albert Riera then fired just wide from 25 yards as Liverpool finally built up some momentum as the interval approached.
Liverpool, predictably in front of The Kop, came out firing after the break and were furious when referee Howard Webb ignored their appeals for a penalty as Torres tumbled under Jagielka's challenge.
Moyes delighted with derby draw
Everton keeper Howard made his first meaningful save after 55 minutes, diving to his left to deny Gerrard from 12 yards, but it still needed a magnificent saving tackle from Leighton Baines to stop Hyypia turning in the rebound.
Torres then fired in a shot on the turn from long range, but it was always rising and never threatened to trouble Howard.
It had been another bitterly disappointing night for Keane, and it was no surprise when he was replaced by Yossi Benayoun after 66 minutes. He cut a dejected figure as he departed, having once again failed to justify his £20m price tag.
Everton then had penalty claims of their own when Anichebe tumbled under challenge from Martin Skrtel, but it would have been the harshest of awards.
And their disappointment was even more acute seconds later when Gerrard picked up Riera's pass and took aim from 25 yards, before burying a low shot to Howard's right.
It gave Everton, who had showed tremendous spirit, a huge task as they attempted to work their way back into the game they had fought so hard to stay in.
And, after Benitez had fatefully substituted the tiring Torres with Lucas, they struck after 87 minutes to take a share of the spoils.
Arteta's wicked delivery was met by Cahill, who steered a header beyond the stranded Reina.
It sparked scenes of wild celebrations among the Everton fans - but the silence from Liverpool's supporters at the final whistle told the story that this was very much a missed opportunity for Benitez's side.
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