Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho praised Karim Benzema for his successful late cameo performance against Hercules, which he believes will serve as a timely confidence booster for the under-fire Frenchman.
Benzema has found himself under the media spotlight after struggling to impress for Madrid and he went into last night's match against Hercules having netted just one goal so far this season.
The big-money signing from Lyon in 2009 was unable to improve on that tally in his 14-minute spell after replacing Pepe, but he did play a big part in the two goals scored by Cristiano Ronaldo that helped Madrid earn a 3-1 win in Alicante after trailing early on.
Benzema was also involved as Ronaldo was put clean-through at the end, but the Portuguese ace was unable to take advantage as he blazed his hat-trick opportunity over.
Mourinho, who defended Benzema prior to the match, said of the 22-year-old France striker: "He didn't score but he created three goals, the second, the third and the fourth, which Cristiano wasn't able to score. He's been an extra help in attack, a new problem for Hercules. He gave a completely different dynamic to the game.
"He hasn't scored but his participation in the team's play was enormous. It's very important for his morale. I'm very happy for him."
Benzema added in AS: "It was an important game for me. Everybody spoke very badly of me. Now I'm fine and so is the team. We are happy with the result. The critics haven't hurt me, only my family. I need to play, I'm going to work hard to play much more."
Last night's victory continued Madrid's unbeaten start under Mourinho, which includes 10 wins from 13 competitive games, while it also improved the capital club's remarkable record at Jose Rico Perez stadium.
In 20 visits to Hercules' home ground, Madrid have still to lose and have now picked up 16 victories. Madrid needed to do it the hard way, though, after giant-killers Hercules, who have already beaten Barcelona and Sevilla this season as well as holding Villarreal to a draw, took a third-minute lead through David Trezeguet.
It took Madrid until the second half to get back on terms, Angel Di Maria netting after Hercules goalkeeper Juan Calatayud had spilled a Ronaldo long-range effort, but the capital club ran out deserving winners thanks to those two late goals from the world's most expensive player.
Mourinho said: "The first half was very difficult against a very aggressive opponent. I didn't like the goal Hercules scored because we'd seen the video and we spoke a lot about these plays.
"In the second half we practically played on our own, we increased our defensive level and (goalkeeper Iker) Casillas didn't have a save. But the most important thing are the three points which leave us in first place for another week."