By Richard Martin
REUTERS - Valencia coach Cesare Prandelli praised his team's spirit and determination as his tenure at the ailing La Liga giants got off on the right note with a 2-1 win at Sporting Gijon on Sunday.
The former Italy boss succeeded Pako Ayesteran a fortnight ago with the twice Champions League finalists in the relegation zone and his new charges had a flying start when Mario Suarez finished off an impressive counter attack in the seventh minute.
Carlos Castro's header pegged Valencia back before the break but ex-Atletico Madrid and Watford midfielder Suarez restored their lead in the second half with a close range finish.
"What I liked most was the union, the desire to do things well and the spirit of wanting to work hard," Prandelli told a news conference.
"We played with a lot of intensity at a difficult ground against a very organised team and it was a very balanced game."
Valencia moved out of the relegation zone and up to 14th with nine points from eight games, although Prandelli acknowledged the job had only just begun.
"I'm very happy but we need to keep working hard, really hard. The three points will give us a boost to keep on working," he said.
With six league titles and seven King's Cups to their name, Valencia are one of the biggest clubs in Spanish soccer but have struggled to repeat past glories since manager Rafael Benitez departed after overseeing their last league triumph in 2004.
The club have also experienced financial upheaval in recent years and had to shelve plans to move into a new 61,000 capacity stadium as the city felt the shockwaves of Spain's economic crisis.
Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim bought the debt-ridden club in 2014 but Valencia have continued to lurch from crisis to crisis and have made a string of ill-fated managerial appointments.
Prandelli, who took Italy to the Euro 2012 final, is Valencia's eighth coach since Unai Emery parted ways with the club in 2012 despite qualifying for the Champions League three seasons running.
Prandelli's predecessor Ayesteran's only previous experience as a first team coach was in Israel and Mexico, while former England defender Gary Neville, sacked in March with just three league wins in 16 games, had never managed before.
Despite a good start, Prandelli exercised caution when asked whether he could lead a charge towards the top four.
"At the moment, I'm only thinking about improving the team, in giving them identity, temperament and personality," he said.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ken Ferris)