Wolves 4 (Jota 15, 67 & 81, Neves 52) RCD Espanyol 0
Diogo Jota made history as he scored his second European hat-trick in succession to add to a Ruben Neves stunner to give Wolves a heavy four-goal lead in their Europa League round of 32 clash with RCD Espanyol.
The first of Jota’s three goals was the difference at half-time as smashed Raul Jimenez’s flicked header into the back of the net, before Neves’ long-range piledriver was added to by a further two efforts by Jota to complete his hat-trick, as Wolves take a healthy lead into the second leg of their tie in Barcelona next Thursday night.
On a bitterly cold evening in Wolverhampton, the home side were doing their best to keep the ball moving quickly in a bid to raise the temperatures inside of Molineux. However, it was the visitors from Barcelona who had the first opportunity of the game, as Chinese superstar Lei Wu was found unmarked at the far post by Oscar Melendo, and after getting his neat shot on target from a tight angle, he found Rui Patricio in a good position to make the block before the danger was cleared.
Early in the tie, Wolves tried to catch out Espanyol’s goalkeeper Andres Prieto, one of nine changes made by head coach Abelardo Fernandez from the side which drew 2-2 with Sevilla the previous Sunday, but long range efforts from Neves and Joao Moutinho – both of which went flying into the North Bank – did little to trouble the stopper.
But the hosts did not have to wait long for the opening goal. From a short corner, which was laid into the path of Moutinho by Adama Traore – whose good work down the right saw Wolves awarded the set-piece – was curled onto the head of Jimenez, but the Mexican flicked the ball into six yard box and onto the foot of Jota, who fired first-time past Prieto.
Although there was little Espanyol’s keeper could do to stop Jota, he did very well to deny Traore who was played through the visiting defence by Jimenez before attempting to lift the ball over the onrushing Prieto, but the keeper got down quickly to block Traore’s effort with his legs.
With half-an-hour gone, Espanyol almost levelled the tie up after a mix-up in the Wolves defence. Jimenez attempted to smash the ball forwards, but sliced his effort straight towards Patricio, who attempted to clear the ball up field, but ended up knocking it straight to Facundo Ferreyra. Unmarked and just yards out, the Espanyol striker aimed at goal, but Patricio made up for his error by getting down well and stopping the ball from crossing the line.
Moments before the half-time whistle was blown, VAR raised its head once again. When Jota and Ander Iturraspe came to blows in the centre of the pitch, the pair stood up to each other before the Espanyol midfielder appeared to throw his head towards Jota and Referee Tobias Stieler brandished a yellow card to Iturraspe for the incident.
However, while VAR were looking at the incident to see whether Iturraspe’s booking should be upgraded to a red card, Moutinho was booked for his protests, before it was decided that referee’s initial action was to be upheld.
Half-time: Wolves 1 Espanyol 0
Wolves had to soak up the Espanyol pressure early in the second-half, before Molineux was treated to one of the best European goals the grand old stadium has ever seen.
Traore raced down the right before crossing into the area, the ball was headed clear but only as far as Neves. Firstly, the Portuguese midfielder brought the ball down on his chest 25 yards out from goal and with an absolutely stunning second touch he struck the ball as well as only he could as it flew like an arrow into the back of the net and past the outstretched arms of Prieto.
Minutes after Neves’ wonder strike, Nuno made his first change of the evening as he looked to shore up the midfield with a two-goal advantage, brining on Leander Dendoncker in place of Traore.
The Belgian was heavily involved in extending the host’s lead as he worked a one-two with Doherty who slipped the ball through to Jota. The Portuguese forward took the ball wide right, but at the edge of the six-yard box, fired a bullet which flicked past Prieto and into the roof of the net.
Wolves’ almost scored a second spectacular goal during the evening as substitute Pedro Neto picked up the ball in the centre of the park before the young forward raced into the Espanyol half and from 25-yards out, with the net in his sights, hit a wicked and powerful drive which just clipped the edge of the post before going behind.
But the home side were rewarded with their fourth and Jota made history by securing back-to-back European hat-tricks following his three against Besiktas last time out, with a sumptuous solo effort. Picking the ball up un midfield, he dribbled to the edge of the area before picking his spot and firing the ball into the bottom left corner of the goal.
With a place in the last 16 at stake, Wolves will take confidence and a four-goal cushion into next week’s second leg.
Full-time: Wolves 4 Espanyol 0
Wolves: Patricio, Doherty, Boly, Coady, Saiss, Jonny, Neves, Moutinho, Traore (Dendoncker 61), Jota (Podence 83), Jimenez (Neto 75).
Unused subs: Ruddy, Kilman, Jordao, Campana.
Espanyol: Prieto, Gomez (Darder 75), Calero, Naldo, Vila, Vargas, Iturraspe (David Lopez 61), Sanchez, Melendo (Calleri 62), Ferreyra, Wu.
Unused subs: Diego Lopez, Pedrosa, Cabrera, Embarba.
Referee: Tobias Stieler (Germany)