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Crusaders 1-4 Wolves (1-6 agg) | Match report

Crusaders 1 (Heatley 14) Wolves 4 (Jimenez 15 & 45, Bennett 38, Forsythe OG 78)

Two goals from Raul Jimenez set Wolves on their way to securing a place in the Europa League third qualifying round with a comfortable victory over Crusaders in Belfast.

The Mexican netted either side of a Ryan Bennett header after Wolves found themselves going behind to their Northern Irish opponents when Paul Heatley opened the scoring, but an own goal from Jordan Forsythe gave the visitors a 6-1 aggregate victory.   

Head coach Nuno Espirito Santo – who was marking his 100th competitive game in charge of Wolves – made one change from the side which took the first leg 2-0 last Thursday evening at Molineux by bringing in Jimenez for Morgan Gibbs-White.

Despite Nuno reverting to the same 11 which played the majority of games last season, it was the home side who started the match looking the most dangerous.

Jordan Owens, the only new face in the Crusaders line-up from that which started the first leg, came close to putting his team ahead when he got on the end of a cross from the right before looping a header goalbound. Fortunately for the visitors, Conor Coady was there to head the ball off the line.

Although Wolves maintained a lot of possession in the early stages of the game, they were struggling to break down another dogged Crusaders backline. A slip up from captain Coady, who misjudged the bounce of the ball on the 4G pitch, almost let Owens get in on goal, but the Crusaders striker couldn’t get his shot away.

With just under 15 minutes on the clock, there was a flurry of goals. Firstly, Crusaders supporters were sent into raptures when Heatley got in front of Bennett and on the end of a Forsythe cross to head the ball beyond Rui Patricio and into the top corner of the net.

However, the home side’s jubilation was short-lived as Jimenez brought Wolves level within 60 seconds. The Mexican striker found the bottom corner of Sean O’Neill’s goal when he was neatly found on the edge of the box with his back to goal by Diogo Jota, and with a trademark turn and shot, his low driving effort nestled into the back of the net.

Wolves and Jimenez could have made it two when he was picked out at the near post by Joao Moutinho’s corner, but the forward could only direct his header inches over the bar. Just after the half hour mark, Jimenez attempted another effort, this time from outside the box, but he could only drag his shot wide.

With just over five minutes to go until the break, Wolves got their second goal. From another Moutinho corner, Bennett found acres of space inside the Crusaders box to power an unmarked header past the outstretched arms of O’Neill.

Minutes later, Jimenez gave Wolves a four-goal aggregate lead in the tie when, after good work on the edge of the box between him and Jota, he unleashed a hammer drive which left O’Neill stranded to the spot as he could only watch the ball fly past him and into the net.

Half-time: Crusaders 1 Wolves 3 (1-5 agg)

Wolves were still controlling play into a second half where they were shooting towards the goal in front of the 550 travelling supporters from the Black Country. But it was a bad start to the second 45 minutes for the visitors as Jimenez took a knock to his ankle and had to limp of the pitch.

Tempers started to flare with 55 minutes on the clock when Billy Joe Burns went in hard on Jota. The Wolves forward reacted to badly to the foul, with both players getting booked by Slovenian referee Nejc Kajtazovic.

Moutinho had O’Neill scrambling when he directed a free-kick over the wall and towards the bottom corner of the goal, but the Crusaders keeper was able to get a strong hand to the ball to keep it out. Gibbs-White was first to the rebound but saw his shot blocked.

There was a fortuitous nature to Wolves’ fourth goal of the match. Adama Traore looks to get on the end of a deep cross towards the back post, however, Forsythe got there first, but his defensive header unfortunately loops over his own goalkeeper and into the back of the net.

Wolves had chances late in the game to further extend their lead, but the final whistle signalled Wolves' first European tie win since 1973/74, and set up a Europa League third qualifying round clash with Armenian side FC Pyunik in the process.

Full-time: Crusaders 1 Wolves 4 (1-6 agg)

Crusaders: O’Neill, Hegarty, Burns, Clarke (Caddell 78), Lowry, Ward, O’Rourke, Heatley, Hale (Thompson 83), Forsythe, Owens (Cushley 80).

Unused subs: Doherty, Beverland, Coates, Ruddy.

Wolves: Patricio, Traore, Bennett, Coady, Boly, Jonny, Dendoncker, Neves (Saiss 68), Moutinho, Jota (Vinagre 67), Jimenez (Gibbs-White 55).

Unused subs: Ruddy, Kilman, Sanderson, Perry.

Referee: Nejc Kajtazovic (Slovenia)

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