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Dominant Crues stride towards a dream clash with Wolves

Crusaders 2 B36 Torshavn 0

Win bonus: Crusaders ace Ross Clarke and Torshavn’s Alex Mellemgaard
Win bonus: Crusaders ace Ross Clarke and Torshavn’s Alex Mellemgaard
Full stretch: Torshavn ace Arni Frederiksberg and Crues’ Paul Heatley fight for possession

By Steven Beacom

Crusaders have taken a giant step towards a dream Europa League meeting with Premier League outfit Wolves.

Stephen Baxter's men were vastly superior in every department against B36 Torshavn at Seaview last night in the first leg of the first qualifying round tie.

The only surprise at the finish was that they didn't win by a much bigger scoreline. In the end, they had to settle for a 2-0 victory with goals from debutant Chris Hegarty and Philip Lowry.

Jordan Owens had a penalty saved and the Crues created a host of other chances in as dominant a performance from an Irish League side in Europe as you are likely to see.

The return leg still has to be negotiated, and the professionalism of Baxter will ensure nothing is taken for granted, but the Crues would kick themselves if they didn't see this through.

Pre-match, Baxter had made the point that the only focus was on Torshavn from the Faroe Islands and not Wolves.

For the Crusaders fans inside Seaview, though, it was difficult for them not to have their minds on a match at Molineux and a meeting with a top Premier League side who defeated Liverpool and Manchester United on their way to the FA Cup semi-finals last season.

Ahead of kick-off, the buzz in the stands was about taking on Nuno Espirito Santo's star-studded outfit.

Truth be told, it would have been on the back of the minds of the Crues players too in those moments before they kicked off their 2019-20 campaign - and the Torshavn team come to that.

Midfielder Declan Caddell had spoken earlier this week about his desire to face the English top-flight side having missed out due to a serious injury eight years ago when the Crues played Fulham in Europe.

Caddell's best friend Sean O'Neill was given the nod in goal and the captain's armband, with skipper Colin Coates on holiday, while defender Hegarty, signed from Dungannon Swifts, was handed his competitive debut.

Just 88 seconds in, the Crues had the ideal opportunity to take the lead when they were awarded a penalty after Owens was pulled by Eli Nielsen after a tangle in the box following a long throw. Up stepped the Shore Road side's record goalscorer but his spot-kick was smothered by goalkeeper Hans Jorgensen.

It would not be the last time in the first half Jorgensen was called upon. He did well to keep out Jordan Forsythe, Ross Clarke and Lowry, who had latched on to a flick from Owens.

The Crues striker would have been disappointed with his penalty miss, but it didn't have a negative impact on him as he caused endless problems for the B36 defence with his presence and power.

For all of their dominance in the opening half-hour, the concern for Baxter would have been that it was still scoreless, especially when Ami Frederiksberg hit the bar with a curling free-kick on 31 minutes.

Perhaps that was required for the Hatchetmen to up the ante. On 33 minutes they took the lead when Hegarty, booked at the other end moments earlier, powered in a close-range header from a Billy Joe Burns delivery.

What a moment for the ex-Rangers defender as he lapped it up and celebrated with the Crues fans behind the goal.

As impressive as the Crues were in the first half, they were frustrating after the break as they created little. That was until the 79th minute when a Burns pass found Owens, who touched it into Lowry's path and the midfielder did the rest.

It was a deserved goal from Lowry, who had been excellent.

Burns and substitute David Cushley went close to adding to the Crusaders lead but two should be enough.

It may have been edgy had Brian Jacobsen headed home for Torshavn rather than wide on 97 minutes.

That big clash with Wolves is not far away.

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