Gary Neville felt his Valencia side deserved more than a draw against Barcelona and praised his second string for playing “with dignity” following a rocky week for the England coach.
Already angry at losing to Barca 7-0 in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final, Valencia supporters called for Neville’s head on Sunday after a 1-0 defeat at Real Betis left the team without a win in nine league matches.
The 40-year-old managed to avoid yet another damaging loss on Wednesday when Valencia recorded a 1-1 draw against a much-changed Barcelona team in the second leg of the cup tie at the Mestalla.
Alvaro Negredo put the hosts on course for their first win against Barcelona in six years with his sixth goal since Neville took charge in November, but Wilfrid Kaptoum equalised with six minutes to go to rewrite the history books as Luis Enrique eclipsed Pep Guardiola’s record of 28 matches without defeat.
“The positive thing is the performance of some of the youngest players,” Valencia coach Neville said in his post-match press conference.
“And I think we deserved to win. These haven’t been the best circumstances after the last week, but the players have played with dignity.
“We could have scored a second goal in the second half and that would have killed off the game, but they (Barcelona), have equalised on the counter attack.”
Negredo raced on to Wilfried Zahibo’s pass six minutes before the break and rolled the ball into the net after Marc-Andre ter Stegen had fumbled the striker’s original effort.
The hosts wasted chances to grab a second, but on the whole, Valencia restricted Barca to the point where their first shot on target came only after the hour-mark.
Neville knows Valencia fans will once again be angry with him if their side fail to beat lowly Espanyol this weekend.
Indeed some supporters called for Neville’s head as he and his players arrived at the Mestalla on Wednesday. When the game started, the 55,000-seater stadium was less than a fifth full.
“I am thankful to the fans who came here to support,” the former Manchester United captain said.
“I’m also aware it’s the right of the fans who didn’t come tonight not to come.
“I think the stadium on Saturday will be full, it will be an electric atmosphere. We and the team need the fans more than ever on Saturday.”
Enrique, meanwhile, is already looking forward to competing in the final, most likely against Sevilla, who hold a four-goal lead over Celta Vigo in the other semi.
“At Barca we’re very used to playing in finals,” said the Barcelona coach, who omitted stars like Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez from his starting XI on Wednesday.
“But it is very difficult to get this far and we’re really looking forward to it. It says a lot for this club’s ability to reinvent itself. We’re delighted.”
Enrique shrugged off the importance of beating Guardiola’s record, which has stood for five years.
“The record is just numbers,” said the Spaniard, who won the treble in his first season in charge.
“So let’s see if those numbers are good enough to bring us titles.”