Rafa Benitez says it was imperative Everton restored the connection between players and supporters prior to this month’s international break.
Manager Benitez’s side set about Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park on Sunday with a ferocity the Spaniard conceded was missing in the opening half at Wolverhampton Wanderers six days earlier.
Everton’s industry and intent translated into a cohesive performance against Spurs, missing only the decisive goal that would have prompted a four-place Premier League climb.
Equally, Everton remained clear-minded in the closing minutes when it would have been easy, in light of recent history, to get caught betwixt-and-between hunting a winner and preserving the status quo.
Everton trailed West Ham United and Watford for only a combined 26 minutes of regulation time in their past two home fixtures but lost both games after slipping-up late on.
There was no such drama as the meeting with Spurs went to the wire – even after a red card for Mason Holgate.
“We had to find the balance between trying to score and win the game and, in the last five minutes with 10 players, not throwing away everything,” Benitez told evertontv.
“The players understood that and the attitude was so good, it was easy for us to manage [final stages].
“I was upset because we couldn’t get the three points but as a team, and for the defenders, when you have made some mistakes and conceded goals, a clean sheet gives you a boost and confidence for the future.
“We know how important the fans can be for the rest of the season and, for us, it is really important for them to know we care.
“All the players, everyone, we are trying to win.
“In front of the fans, it was really important for us to be on the front foot from the first minute, the first challenge and the first tackle.
“The players did that – and when we do it, the fans appreciate it and support the team.
“The connection between the fans and players was good, then you could see the intensity on the pitch.
“I wasn’t pleased with the final score.
“But I was really pleased with the performance because, I think, we bought the fans back with the attitude of the players.”
Benitez opted to stiffen midfield against Spurs in a bid to reverse a first downturn of the campaign, which meant a start for fit-again Fabian Delph and Andros Townsend occupying a central position.
Townsend, signed for nothing in the summer, was among the chief architects of Everton’s bountiful start to the campaign.
But the 30-year-old, who scored three goals and assisted two as his side claimed 14 points from their opening seven games, was more destroyer than creator against his old club.
The redeployment of Townsend represented a means to an end, insisted Benitez, who wants the forward back in an advanced role before long.
In the case of Delph, however, Benitez is hoping for more of the same after the Englishman marked his first start for 11 months with an exemplary holding-midfield display.
“I will give credit to Delph,” began Benitez, “he is someone with experience, he can pass the ball and give us a little bit more control – but you can see he is still not at the level [full fitness].
“Every player is important, particularly with a lot of games in one-and-a-half months [10 fixtures in 42 days from 21 November].
“It is really important to have every player fit – especially in positions like this one in midfield.
“When you have players with experience and quality, they can help the team play better, keep the ball better.
“Andros did a great job – we would like to see crosses and goals from him but in this position he was helping the team.
“We needed more balance and quality up front to be sure we could keep the ball better.
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“Against a very good team, we did well, it could have been better because always you can improve.
“But with the players we were missing, it was important to show this character.”
On those missing players – Benitez was without the quartet of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Yerry Mina and Andre Gomes against Spurs – the manager is hopeful of progress before a visit to Manchester City on 21 November.
“We are working on that, we bought in a rehabilitation coach [Cristian Fernandez, appointed in October] to be sure we could be a little bit stronger," said Benitez.
“Delph is an example of that.
“We are bringing back some important players and, hopefully, we can bring back some of the important players we are missing at the moment.”