VALENCIA — Under-fire Spanish football giants Real Madrid boss Rafael Benitez claimed his side deserved more credit after holding on for a 2-2 draw with 10 men away to Valencia on Sunday.
Benitez was badly in need of a win on his return to Valencia, where he won two La Liga titles in three years, to ease the constant speculation surrounding his future.
Yet, his side were left with an uphill task when Mateo Kovacic was shown a straight red card 20 minutes from time after Karim Benzema’s early opener had been cancelled out by Dani Parejo’s penalty.
A brilliant header form Gareth Bale briefly gave Madrid hope of a huge three points in the title race, but barely a minute had passed before Paco Alcacer salvaged a point for Valencia.
“The question (about my future) only looks at the result, but the effort shown by the team deserves more praise than anything else,” Benitez said.
A point leaves Real still four points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid and two behind Barcelona having also played a game more than the European champions.
Benitez has been publicly backed by Madrid president Florentino Perez, but media reports in recent weeks have suggested French legend and the club’s reserve team coach Zinedine Zidane could be promoted to the top job at the Bernabeu if results don’t improve.
“I can’t avoid other people speculating. All I can do is ensure the team works like it did today,” Benitez said.
“The players put in a huge effort and unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for the three points.”
A draw also left Gary Neville still without a win after four La Liga games in charge of Valencia.
However, the England coach believes his side are moving in the right direction and stated his desire to stay on at the club beyond his current deal until the end of the season.
“I absolutely hope I am here beyond six months, but I know I have to prove myself and that tonight isn’t proving myself. It’s a small step.
“I’m more interested in Granada (in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday) and Real Sociedad next weekend. I want performance after performance, I want to get fitter and stronger in every single game and what I have seen tonight is a really high level.”
It could have been even better for Neville’s men if Alvaro Negredo has converted when clean through on goal in stoppage time.
Villarreal’s 2-1 win at Deportivo la Coruna earlier on Sunday means Valencia are now 13 points off their pre-season target of a place in the top four.
Yet, Neville insisted a surge in the second half of the campaign to make a return to the Champions League next season isn’t beyond his side.
“One moment doesn’t define a season. There is natural disappointment because at times I felt we could win the game,” he added.
“I don’t believe if Negredo scores that means we would get into the Champions League.
“What will get us towards the Champions League is sustained performances and results over a long period of time. I’m seeing far better level of performance and fitness in the last game-and-a-half and I’m confident we will win games if we play like we did tonight.”