MATCH CENTRE

Benitez On Key Factors In Saints Win

Rafa Benitez says Everton’s “togetherness and character” were responsible for Saturday’s exhilarating come-from-behind victory over Southampton at Goodison Park.

Spaniard Benitez, taking charge of Everton for the first time, saw his side fall a goal behind on 22 minutes.

But, roared on by a packed Goodison, the home side scored three unanswered goals after half-time.

Richarlison volleyed in an equaliser, before Abdoulaye Doucoure turned the game on its head with a belting finish from 18 yards.

Benitez paid tribute to the Evertonians who created a rousing atmosphere – and gave their new boss a tremendous pre-match welcome – which reached a crescendo when Dominic Calvert-Lewin headed in his side’s third goal on 81 minutes.

“The performance is the key, to see the players care and try means we are together,” said Benitez.

“The fans will appreciate that.

“Thanks to the fans for their support, for me and the team.


“Having the fans behind us again this season will be crucial for us.

“We showed determination and character and belief and desire, the things they are expecting.

“But we know it is the beginning and we have to improve

“We are really pleased with the reaction of the team and the support of the fans [after going one down].

“All the things when you lose are more difficult but the fans will give us time to settle down and organise everything and play the way they want us to play to win games.

“I am the manager, the majority of them [supporters] know that I like to fight, I like to compete and I did today.

“I will do it during all my time here. I am someone who likes do his job properly and to win. Then, if you have the connection with the fans in the way we had today, I'm really happy with that.”

Everton were in the ascendancy for the opening quarter of the game, creating half chances for Allan and Calvert-Lewin.

Southampton striker Adam Armstrong delivered a sting in the tail, however, running on to Che Adams’ prodded pass to finish into the top corner.

Everton were fleetingly rocked but steadily regained a footing in the game.

That standing grew firmer after a couple of Benitez tweaks prior to the second half.

The major change saw Richarlison switch into a central position,with debutant Demarai Gray moving to the left.

And within 120 seconds of the restart, Richarlison – who was in Japan winning an Olympic gold medal seven days ago – volleyed into the roof of the net to equalise.

“It wasn’t a gamble to play him,” said Benitez.

“He told us he wanted to play, I told him he had to score, he did it and everybody is happy,

“We knew... people would say he could be tired. The reality is that his match fitness is good. We gave him one day off to be sure he was fine.

“We will try to bring the best from him in the next couple of weeks and after give him some time to recover fully for the rest of the season.

"I'm happy with his performance – happy on the left but especially in the middle, because he was linking really with the midfielders and the players in the wide areas. “

Midfielder Doucoure rifled home with 14 minutes remaining to generate the loudest noise inside Goodison for 18 months.

And the decibel levels cranked up another notch when Calvert-Lewin flung himself to head Richarlison’s 81st-minute cross past goalkeeper Alex McCarthy.

“When you have good players on the pitch, you can expect something special from them,” added Benitez.

“Richy did it and Doucoure scored a great goal, I told him he had to score more than five goals this year

“I'm happy with the way we approached the game in general but especially the second half, with the confidence we showed, the way we were challenging and the way that we fought for every ball.

“The mentality and desire commitment were there.

“That's what the fans are expecting. At the same time, we had some crosses, some shots, some counter-attacks – so a lot of positives from the first game of the season. 

“We had players coming back late and now we are, little by little, getting to know each other. It will take some time but it's good to start with three points.”

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