Wolves 2 (Jota 37, Vinagre 90) Crusaders 0
A goal in either half from Diogo Jota and Ruben Vinagre ensured Wolves’ first European tie in almost 40 years ended in victory, as Northern Irish outfit Crusaders came to Molineux for the first leg of a Europa League second qualifying round clash.
A sweetly struck half-volley from Jota and Vinagre’s tap in from a matter of inches came in a game where Wolves dominated possession, but lacked the crucial touch in the final third of the pitch. However, the side still take a two goal advantage to the second leg of the fixture in Belfast next week.
Head coach Nuno Espirito Santo named the same starting 11 who took to the field in Wolves’ recent Premier League Asia Trophy-winning matches, but did welcome Raul Jimenez and Romain Saiss to the squad after the pair missed the tour of China due to their summer international exploits.
Despite Wolves’ early spell of possession, it was the visitors who had the first chance of the game. From a corner, the ball found its way out of the area to Ronan Hale who took a shot from 25-yards which flew narrowly wide of Rui Patricio’s right-hand upright.
That chance seemed to spur Wolves into life. Firstly, Joao Moutinho aimed an effort goalwards from the edge of the Crusaders’ box, but Sean O’Neill in the visitor’s goal got down low well to make a comfortable save. Moments later, Jota got in behind the Crusaders’ defence, but he could only drag his shot well wide.
Wolves continued to dominate the first-half of proceedings, with Morgan Gibbs-White showing his strength in the air by getting up well to direct two efforts towards goal, but both were saved by O’Neill, while Ryan Bennett headed over after Jota danced around the Crusaders’ tackles to win a corner for his side.
Although Wolves saw a lot of possession, Nuno’s side were limited to long-range chances outside the area. Neves aimed one of his trademark 30-yard shots at O’Neill’s goal, before Gibbs-White fired over the bar on the turn.
With 37 minutes on the clock Wolves finally made the breakthrough their dominance deserved. After steady build-up, the ball found is way out to Traore on the right wing who cut inside and curled a cross into the centre of the box which landed directly on the boot of Jota to fire a hard half-volley past O’Neill.
Jota had a chance to double his side’s lead just minutes later after Neves’ long-range shot was deflected to his feet as he ran into the box, but the Crusaders keeper was quick off his line to close down Jota and stop him from getting a telling shot at goal. Neves then fired a free-kick, 20-yards out from goal, well over the crossbar.
Half-time: Wolves 1 Crusaders 0
Wolves began the second-half as they ended the last; on the front foot. But like it was in the opening 45 minutes, Nuno’s men spurned plenty of chances. The forward pairing of Jota and Gibbs-White both aimed efforts wide, while Bennett couldn’t get his header on target.
Just before the hour mark, Wolves made their first change of the evening with last season’s top scorer Jimenez making his first appearance of 2019/20 in place of Neves, meaning Gibbs-White dropped into midfield.
It was the Academy graduate who was the next player to have an effort, but from 20-plus yards out from the goal he fired his shot high and wide of the target. Shortly after, Gibbs-White had another chance when he got on the end of a chipped Jimenez cross, but the 19-year-old could only head narrowly wide.
Jimenez had an opportunity to double Wolves’ advantage with just over 15 minutes of the game remaining when he got on the end of substitute Vinagre cross, but the Mexico striker’s header was straight at O’Neill.
Wolves gave Saiss his first taste of football this season with just over five minutes of the contest remaining, but it was fellow substitute Jimenez who had another opportunity to extend the home side’s lead but headed he just wide of the right upright.
With the game seemingly heading to end in a single goal victory, it was Vinagre who marked a new five-year contract with his first goal at Molineux. The ball was fumbled to the wing-back’s feet by O’Neill and the Portuguese had the simplest of touches to tap it into an unguarded net from a yard out.
Full-time: Wolves 2 Crusaders 0
Wolves: Patricio, Traore, Bennett, Coady, Boly, Jonny (Vinagre 64), Dendoncker, Neves (Jimenez 58), Moutinho, Gibbs-White (Saiss 84), Jota.
Unused subs: Ruddy, Kilman, Sanderson, Perry.
Crusaders: O’Neill, Ward, Lowry, Burns, Hegarty, Forsythe, Clarke (Owens 61), Heatley, O’Rourke, Rory Hale (Cushley 82), Caddell (Thompson 66).
Unused subs: Doherty, Beverland, Ronan Hale, Ruddy.
Referee: Johan Kristoffer Karlsson