Rafa Benitez admits Everton are reliant on injured players Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend following their victory over Hull.
The Toffees reached the FA Cup fourth round with a 3-2 win at the MKM Stadium, but it was far from simple. Underdogs Hull got off to a dream start as Tyler Smith put them in front less than a minute in by connecting with a George Honeyman free-kick.
The impressive Demarai Gray dragged Everton level 20 minutes later, before midfielder Andre Gomes gave them the lead.
But the Premier League outfit could not see it out as Ryan Longman notched a brilliant equaliser in the second half. That goal, Longman’s third of the season, sent the tie into extra time.
That is where substitute Andros Townsend stepped up to book Everton’s place in the next round. The winger sent a dipping effort at Hull keeper Nathan Baxter, despite being far out, and saw it beat the 23-year-old.
The 99th-minute strike helped to ease some of the pressure surrounding Benitez. However, the performance was not exactly convincing.
Speaking to BBC Sport after the win, Benitez revealed problems affecting Gray and Townsend. “We know the FA Cup is massive and you could see the atmosphere today,” the Spaniard said.
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“We started by making things difficult for ourselves but the reaction of the team, as usual, was quite good which means that the players care.
“You have to praise all of the players for sure but Gray played through pain until we had to make the substitution because he was working so hard. Townsend is injured and he’s playing because he wants to help the team. That is the spirit you are expecting from our players.
“It’s always important to win and to win in the cup is massive. I think the way that we played we could have scored three or four goals to finish the game in the first half but we didn’t do it and we had to suffer until the end.”
Everton had to ‘dip deep’, says Gray
During a post-match interview with BBC Sport, goalscorer Gray said: “To concede so early wasn’t helpful but we responded well. It’s FA Cup football and I’m sure everyone watching enjoyed it but, for us, it was important to get the win.
“We had to dig deep but we’re happy to be in the hat. We knew it would be difficult coming here, we are an experienced side and we know how the FA Cup is.
“Hull put up a very good fight, credit to them but we showed character and I’m happy we got the win.
“It’s important, it would be nice to go on a good cup run and push as far as we can. For the fans it’s a great competition but we have to take it game by game and today was important, not only for the cup but for team morale and we’ve got to push on now.”