A week after his reign began with a 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool, the Italian was given a belated 70th birthday present by his players as they scored four goals in 13 minutes to shock Everton and come from 2-1 down late on at Goodison Park
Joshua King’s hat-trick – against the club for whom he failed to score in 11 appearances last season – earned Watford their first ever win at the famous old ground and lifted them up to 14th in the table.
But though it sparked jubilant celebrations among the travelling Watford fans, Ranieri kept his cool. The dinner he promised his players if they had beaten Liverpool last week remains on hold – now he wants to see a clean sheet.
“I’m wanting Watford to be in the middle positions and I want to immediately get to 40 points and then continue to fight,” he said. “For now it is a good result and a very, very important three points, but then we have to think about our mistakes…
“My philosophy I think was very clear. The players have worked with me for one week and slowly, slowly I’m sure we will get better.”
Watford conceded just three minutes in as Tom Davies finished a rapid Everton attack. Though King levelled 10 minutes later, Everton were on course for victory when Richarlison came off the bench to score against his old club just after the hour.
But what followed shocked Goodison as Juraj Kucka headed Watford level moments before King fired them in front, added a late fourth before Emmanuel Dennis struck in stoppage time.
“We conceded an early goal but it was important how we react,” Ranieri added. “Every time I speak to my players about how our mood must be to never give up. It is important how you fight in every duel.
“I’m of course very satisfied but I also watched some things which were not so good in a defensive way. But it is much better to speak after you win 5-2 than when you lose 5-0.”
The full-time whistle was greeted with a chorus of boos from the Everton fans who stuck around to hear it, with many having already headed for the exits.
It was a major setback for Benitez as the ex-Liverpool boss felt the wrath of the Goodison faithful just 11 games into his reign – having now suffered back-to-back home defeats.
“I have confidence we (will improve),” Benitez said. “Before, if we had won the last game against West Ham it could have been a record (for the best start) since 1978 but then we have lost two games in a row.
“Football changes quickly but we have to make sure we keep believing, working hard and be positive in how we react. But we have to show that on the pitch and not just say it in a press conference.”
Benitez could point to some key absentees, with Richarlison fit enough only for the bench after six weeks out with a knee injury, while the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Abdoulaye Doucoure were missing.
The Spaniard named two goalkeepers on his bench and still had one slot empty, but said he was not thinking about whether he would need to strengthen in January.
“It’s not the time to talk about that – I don’t want to make any excuses,” he said. “With the players we have on the pitch, being 2-1 up and having Richarlison come back, we have to show we’re capable of winning these games.
“We had enough quality on the pitch to manage the game.”