Rafa Benitez says Everton delivered their finest performance of the manager’s embryonic reign to beat Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday.
Demarai Gray, with a brilliant run and shot, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin from the penalty spot, scored Everton’s goals for a 2-0 success.
The same two players were on target last week, when Everton were pegged back by Leeds United and had to settle for a draw.
That result in West Yorkshire, said Benitez, meant he couldn’t be entirely satisfied with Everton’s start to the season.
Taking the victory over Brighton in isolation, however, Benitez sourced a lot of pleasure from his team’s clinical counter-attacking display.
“From the beginning, the team has shown very good spirit and desire and organisation,” said Benitez.
“Then they tried to do what they have to for the benefit of the team.
“We won and kept a clean sheet, so there are a lot of positives.
“We had three or four chances to play better counter-attacks in the first half but missed the last pass or movement.
“It was better in the second half, we needed to be sure we were strong in defence and could play quick counter-attacks.
“We have had difficult games. In the first game against Southampton we showed character to come from behind, something the team hadn’t done for a long time.
“We played against a very difficult team in Leeds – and could have won the game in the end. Against Huddersfield in the Carabao Cup, we played part of the game with 10 men and were able to still win the game.
"This one, because we had maybe more control and, especially, more control at the end, you can say it was better.
"We are improving and, hopefully, we can continue improving, if the players keep working in this way."
Calvert-Lewin netted from the spot for a second straight week, the striker adding to his successful penalty at Leeds with a driven finish inside Robert Sanchez’s right post following Joel Veltman’s foul on Seamus Coleman.
That goal put Everton two goals to the good following a dazzling 41st-minute effort from Gray.
The sprightly attacker, signed from Bayer Leverkusen last month, received a pass from Allan and sped into the box to arrow a crisp strike across Brighton keeper Sanchez.
“Demarai is a young player who needed to be more consistent, he is at the beginning [of his Everton career] but he has done well,” said Benitez.
“He has the quality to make a difference, it is just to make sure that mentally he is strong enough to continue in the same way he is now.
“I tell him so many times, he’s done nothing yet, he has to carry on training well, and if he does, he has the ability to influence games.
“He is working hard in training sessions, he is improving and has more confidence and is always pushing to play.
“It is nice when you have players who want to be on the pitch and train how Demarai does, so the manager selects him.”
Everton steadily gained fluidity after stifling Brighton in the opening exchanges.
Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan exerted a stranglehold on midfield and the away team repeatedly punctured Brighton’s defensive lines.
Benitez’s team, who started to assert their superiority following a 28th-minute Andros Townsend snapshot that was well-saved by Sanchez, had 14 attempts on goal, five of those on target.
“We wanted to be compact and stop Brighton’s passes through midfield and find spaces in the wide areas or behind,” added Benitez.
“Allan was great and so was Doucoure.
“It is not just the passing [of Allan], it is the effort.
“The centre-backs and two midfielders were key players for us because they allowed us to regain the ball and counter-attack.
“The fans are enjoying it because we are fighting – the away fans push and support the team every way they can.
“It is fine [Everton’s start to the season] but I am a little bit disappointed because against Leeds we had chances at the end to do better.
“But it is a new manager, a new season, with not too many signings, and the team is doing well.”