MADRID, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Valencia’s fightback from a goal down to rescue a point in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at home to Barcelona showed new coach Gary Neville watching from the stands the players have the fighting spirit that could help turn their season around.
Former Manchester United and England defender Neville was a surprise choice to succeed Nuno Espirito Santo at the stuttering Singapore-owned club after the Portuguese left “by mutual consent” following last weekend’s defeat at Sevilla.
Neville is joining his brother and former team mate Phil, an assistant coach, and will officially take charge on Sunday to prepare for Wednesday’s Champions League Group H game at home to Olympique Lyonnais.
Valencia must win to keep alive their hopes of reaching the last 16 and hope Ghent do not beat section leaders Zenit St Petersburg, who are already assured of top spot.
Neville joined president Chan Lay Hoon on the VIP tribune at the Mestalla stadium for Barca’s visit and saw Santi Mina level at 1-1 four minutes from time with a brilliant finish after Luis Suarez had put the Spanish and European champions ahead just before the hour.
It was a gritty, battling performance from Valencia, who were chasing the ball for long periods but never gave up, and all the more impressive as they were severely depleted by injuries and suspensions.
“We knew that if it was 0-0 or we were losing by a single goal this team had the guts to get a result,” Mina told Spanish television.
“It’s a point that feels good after what we have been through recently,” added the 19-year-old Spain youth international.
“We have to thank the fans for getting behind us which always gives us strength. It’s a point that will allow us to work with optimism.”
Neville is a business partner of Valencia owner Peter Lim and has been charged with putting the club back on track after a disappointing run domestically and in Europe.
They last won La Liga in 2004, their sixth Spanish title, and were Champions League runners-up in 2000 and 2001 but have been hampered by financial problems over the past decade that forced them to sell many of their best players. (Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Toby Davis)