Gary Neville admitted his relief after picking up his first league victory as Valencia’s manager – but insisted it would not be a night for celebration.
Denis Cheryshev’s diving header gave Valencia a nail-biting 2-1 win over struggling Espanyol, who had taken the lead early in the second half after an error from returning goalkeeper Diego Alves allowed Oscar Duarte to head home.
That looked set to condemn Neville to a third consecutive league defeat, which would have left his side just two points above the relegation zone. But the substitute Alvaro Negredo pulled them level with a deflected finish on 70 minutes and the new recruit Cheryshev scored with a diving header six minutes later to give Valencia the lead for the first time in 10 league games under their new manager.
Although the remaining quarter of an hour brought a couple of nervy moments for the hosts, they hung on to claim their first league victory since beating Celta Vigo 5-1 on 5 November.
“I think what the game tells us today is football isn’t about putting on the best performance, but today we got the result,” said Neville. “It’s not a night for any celebration whatsoever, not to get carried away, but we’ll gain some confidence. There’s a good feeling in the dressing room and we’ll take it forward.
“Relief’s probably a good word in some ways to describe what I felt. The last four minutes can be a long time in football – I wanted the final whistle to come as quickly as possible, and I saw the reaction of the fans, of the players. I think it [10 games without a win] is far too long for this club.
Neville also praised the Mestalla fans for their support throughout the game, saying: “The most incredible bit was the fans stayed with us, they stayed with every single player, they stayed with me.
“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. The game turned into an emotional game, the fans were pushing us forward, throwing us forward. We suffered a little bit but got there in the end and that’s the important thing.”
Neville also announced that Pako Ayesteran, Rafael Benítez’s former assistant at Valencia and Liverpool, is to join his coaching staff with immediate effect.
“He’s not to replace current staff, I just wanted to bring in someone with experience alongside me. Please don’t interpret this as a problem in any way. I’ve been speaking to Paco for the last 10 days.”
The former Manchester United defender also said he was relaxed about the criticism that has come his way. “Hopefully we’ll push on from this and get more confident. That’s what I want, that’s what I hope for. In terms of media and fan reaction, they are well within their rights to say what they’ve been saying. I’d be saying it as a journalist, as a fan. 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.”