Football: Gary Neville sees upswing in form for Valencia after win over Espanyol

Valencia's Russian match winner Denis Dmitriyevich Cheryshev (left) fighting for the ball with Espanyol defender Alvaro during their Spanish Primera Liga match at the Mestalla Stadium.
Valencia's Russian match winner Denis Dmitriyevich Cheryshev (left) fighting for the ball with Espanyol defender Alvaro during their Spanish Primera Liga match at the Mestalla Stadium. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Relief after Valencia fight back to beat Espanyol for first win in 10 league games

VALENCIA • Valencia manager Gary Neville is hopeful his first win in 10 Primera Liga games in charge of Los Che will be the confidence boost his young side needed to turn their season around.

The hosts came from behind to beat Espanyol 2-1 on Saturday thanks to goals in the final 20 minutes from Alvaro Negredo and Denis Cheryshev, to ease Valencia's fears of being dragged into a relegation battle and the pressure on Neville's job.

"Hopefully we'll push on from this. That is what I want, what I hope for," he said after Valencia moved up to 11th with 28 points.

"It's not a night for any celebration whatsoever, not a night to get carried away. We need to gain some confidence from the result.

"There is a good feeling in the dressing room and we need to take that forward."

STILL A STRUGGLE

I'm not expecting to be shielded or protected, I thrive on it. From my point of view, I know I'm in a fight.

GARY NEVILLE, Valencia coach, who has much to do to ensure his first season is a success.

He has been severely criticised by some quarters of the Spanish media, with many suggesting his friendship with Valencia's Singaporean owner Peter Lim is the only reason that he had not been sacked before last weekend.

However, he thanked the club's famously demanding fans for sticking with the side, after they fell behind for the 10th time in as many league games since he took over to Oscar Duarte's header early in the second half .

"The most incredible bit was the fans stayed with us, every single player stayed with me," he added.

"It's not down to tactics, it's not down to the coach, it's down to the fans and the way they responded after the goal.

"We've had to come back so many times in league games: Getafe, Rayo (Vallecano), (Real) Madrid, Deportivo (La Coruna). It's not new for them to come back. They've showed spirit many times and tonight they showed it again."

The Englishman also announced that former Liverpool assistant manager Pako Ayestaran will join his coaching staff from next week. And despite the relief of a first league win, Neville acknowledged that he still has a long way to go to prove he is worthy of staying on at the Mestalla beyond the end of the season.

"The media and fans are well within their rights to say what they want, I'd be saying them as a journalist or as a fan," added the former Manchester United defender and pundit. "I'm not expecting to be shielded or protected, I thrive on it. From my point of view, I know I'm in a fight."

Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo also went some way in silencing his doubters on Saturday.

The Portuguese star scored twice in Real's entertaining 4-2 win over Athletic Bilbao.

The three-time World Player of the Year had been criticised in some quarters for his lack of impact in Madrid's biggest games and away from home this season. But he proved a point in a match that was billed as Zinedine Zidane's toughest test since becoming Real manager.

And the Frenchman launched a staunch defence of his star after watching Ronaldo net his 21st La Liga goal and 32nd in all competitions this season.

"The press are here to opine on whether Ronaldo plays well or badly, if he is finished, but today he has showed he is bloody brilliant," said Zidane. "For me, Cristiano is very important on the wing. When he turns on the ball, he is very good one-on-one.

"The idea was to play with Cristiano more on the wing, win the ball and play quickly towards him. He did that well and the first goal came from that type of situation. He is very hard to defend."

Victory took Zidane's impressive start as coach since replacing the sacked Rafael Benitez to five wins and a draw from his first six games.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2016, with the headline 'NEVILLE SEES FORM UPSWING'. Print Edition | Subscribe