Rafael Benítez said he was delighted with the reception he received from Everton fans as his Goodison Park reign began with a comeback victory against Southampton.
Benítez’s appointment as Carlo Ancelotti’s replacement was considered the most controversial managerial choice in Everton’s history but the former Liverpool manager received a rousing ovation when introduced to the crowd before kick-off. The 61-year-old said the connection between the fans and his new team was instrumental in their recovery.
“I was nervous when I came here with another team, not with my team,” he said. “I was delighted to be here and with the reception of the fans. It was an opportunity to show what we can do, what I can do, but especially what the players can do.
“If they play like this with the fans behind them we have to be competitive and the reaction after conceding a goal is something I have to be happy with as a manager.
“After so many months without fans, the players appreciate the support from the fans and the fans appreciate the commitment of the players and the manager.
“I like to fight, I like to compete and I will do it in all my time here. I am someone that likes to do his job properly, who likes to fight and likes to win. Then, if you have the connection with the fans in the way that we had today, I’m really happy with that.”
Benítez made several tactical switches at half-time after a careless first-half display when Michael Keane’s error gifted Adam Armstrong the opening goal on his Southampton debut.
He said: “The first thing to do [during the half-time interval] was to give them confidence. We had some problems with the ball in the air and with second balls. We changed the positions of the centre-backs and changed the position of Richarlison and Demarai Gray to help us link better and give us something more in the wide areas. We played with the character and intensity we were looking for in the first half.”
Ralph Hasenhüttl, the Southampton manager, felt the scoreline was harsh. “We played better than the result shows and it is tough for us to take,” he said.
“We scored a good goal and they didn’t have many chances in the first half but the goal we conceded early in the second half was too easy. Everything is very lively here with a full crowd and they put us under pressure after that.”