Rafa Benitez says match-winner Andros Townsend and fellow goalscorer Demarai Gray epitomised the spirit Everton expect from their players in Saturday’s FA Cup victory over Hull City.
Only 27 days after fracturing a bone in his foot against old club Crystal Palace, Townsend drove a wicked long-range strike into the top corner in the ninth minute of extra-time to decide a dramatic contest at the Yorkshire club’s MKM Stadium.
Winger Gray was responsible for hauling Everton level after Hull striker Tyler Smith powered home a header inside 60 seconds.
Gray drove infield from the left on 21 minutes to swap passes with Anthony Gordon and finish into the far corner.
Andre Gomes quickly put Everton in front but Hull substitute Ryan Longman equalised after 71 minutes, setting the stage for Townsend to complete a dream return to action.
“We started the match by making things difficult for ourselves but the reaction was quite good, like usual, so it means the players care,” said Benitez.
“You have to praise all the players but Demarai Gray was playing in pain until we made the substitution, he was working so hard.
“And Andros Townsend was injured but playing because he wants to help the team and that is the spirit we are expecting from our players.
“It is always important to win and to win the Cup is massive.
“Playing how we did, we could have scored three or four goals and finished the game in the first half but we didn’t do it and had to suffer until the end.”
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TOWNSEND OUTLINES WHY HULL WIN IS SO IMPORTANT
Everton made a habit early in the campaign of overturning deficits to win, notably coming from behind against Southampton and Burnley to claim maximum points from their opening two home Premier League matches.
More recently, Benitez’s side drew at Chelsea last month after recovering from going one goal down.
But the manager is keen to urgently erase the pattern of conceding first, with Everton last opening the scoring in the meeting with Watford on 23 October.
There was a period after the visiting side recovered their poise against Championship Hull when the floodgates threatened to open.
Gordon, terrific again, smacked a post, Nathan Baxter saved from Gray and Michael Keane was similarly denied by the Hull goalkeeper.
The one-way direction of traffic continued after the break, with Baxter saving from Gordon, who had walloped over from a good position shortly before half-time.
Hull equalised out of the blue when Longman deposited a bending long-range strike out of the reach of the helpless Asmir Begovic.
Begovic had kept Everton within sight of Hull when he tipped over close-range Tom Eaves header after five minutes. And the Bosnian was even sharper to beat out a thundering Eaves drive following Townsend’s goal.
Everton will discover their fourth-round opponents in Sunday’s draw.
“The players showed character, as usual,” said Benitez.
“We have conceded goals and reacted and today was exactly the same.
“A team that is reacting is a team that cares and wants to do well.
“We need to see what happens in the draw and after will try to do well because we want to do well in every game.”