Valencia head coach Gary Neville maintained he did not insult the match official after being sent to the stands after protesting against Athletic Bilbao’s crucial goal in the Europa League.
Neville’s side, trailing 1-0 from the first leg of the last-16 tie, were in the ascendancy at 2-0 up with a little under 15 minutes to go and were seemingly heading for the quarter-finals.
But Aritz Aduriz’s effort handed Athletic a vital away goal, before Neville was sent off by referee Daniele Orsato for protesting against what he felt was a handball in the build-up.
Neville had to watch on from the Mestalla stands as his side bowed out on away goals, despite recording a 2-1 victory on the night.
“I have not insulted the referee,” Neville insisted. “I don’t like to blame the defeat on the referee.
“I think we could have won by four or five. I have seen a very good game. We have been eliminated from the Europa League and it is a bad night.
“It was the team’s highest level since I was here. I think the fans can leave Mestalla proud. There may be disappointment, but tonight the intensity has been maximum. It must be repeated and that is all I ask.”
Neville was critical of his side after Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Levante in La Liga, but was thrilled by the improvement shown by his players on Thursday.
“We’ve seen the two sides of Valencia in the last four days. Sunday’s game and tonight, the differences are evident. It needs to be shown in the next matches.
“They players now have nine games ahead. When you wear this shirt, you have the responsibility to fight every day.
“The fans were right to criticise us on Sunday, but today they will be proud.”