Demarai Gray says having the belief of his manager and teammates – and being given the “freedom to express myself” – is providing a platform for his consistent electric Everton displays.
Gray was again an instrumental figure for Rafa Benitez’s team in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Manchester United.
The winger’s skill, direct running and intelligent movement were on show throughout the Old Trafford contest – and his array of attacking attributes thrillingly came to the fore for Everton’s equalising goal.
Gray picked up the loose ball after a United corner was cleared, fended off a Fred challenge and blazed clear down the left flank. He then slipped in the advancing Abdoulaye Doucoure, who in turn fed Andros Townsend to rifle the Blues level.
The 25-year-old, who joined Everton from Bayer Leverkusen this summer, declared his hunger to sustain his sky-high performance levels – and outlined the key factors underpinning his exceptional start to his Toffees career.
“That [consistency] has been my issue over of the past few years,” he told evertontv.
“I have a manager here and a team that believe in me and give me the freedom to express myself.
“I’m enjoying my football again.
“Everything’s clicked well here. I just want to keep working hard to maintain my level and keep improving.”
Gray's performances have seen him rapidly win the affection of Evertonians, and he was given a rousing ovation from the travelling Blues when substituted in the final knockings of Saturday’s game.
“I’ve always loved playing away in front of the away fans,” Gray added.
“They were loud and it’s the same every time we go away. We always travel heavy and they push us through the game.
“They’ve been top since the start of the season. They give us that second wind and it’s been a great help for us this season.”
Manager Benitez praised the “commitment, intensity and mentality” his players showed to stand toe-to-toe with United, despite having several key players unavailable through injury.
Everton’s collective spirit was highlighted midway through the first half, when the team passionately rallied round teammate Lucas Digne after United midfielder Scott McTominay forcibly attempted to lift the Frenchman to his feet when he was down hurt.
“In the battles we get in, we do it together,” explained Gray.
“No matter what the situation is, we said before the game, we have to be together. We showed that – and I think we got a great point before the international break.”
Just 16 seconds had elapsed between Bruno Fernandes taking a United corner and Gray’s fellow summer signing Townsend applying the finishing touch to Everton’s exhilarating counter-attacking goal.
Gray says the slickness of Everton’s forward play shows the confidence coursing through the squad – and the value of Benitez’s tactical plan.
“We focused a lot on being compact and disciplined in our shape – and I think we did that [against United],” he said.
“Counter-attacking has probably been our strong point this season.
“We’re very good on the counter and we work on set-pieces. We’re aware of the speed we’ve got and it paid off.
“I did my bit, Doucy did his bit, kept composed and played a great pass to Andros. And you couldn’t have wanted it to fall to anyone in better form. He tucked it away and his celebration was a bit mad! It was a great goal.
“There’s a lot to be excited about this season and I’m pretty sure we’ll score many more goals like that.”