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Wolves lack fierce bite as heroic Crues show their teeth

Wolves 2 Crusaders 0

Hunting Wolves: Paul Heatley closes in on Adama Traore
Hunting Wolves: Paul Heatley closes in on Adama Traore
Diogo Jota celebrates his goal
Jarlaith O’Rourke keeps track of Traore
Philip Lowry tackles Morgan Gibbs-White
Forward thinking: Wolves ace Morgan Gibbs-White aims to find a way past Crusaders midfielder Rory Hale last night

By Adrian Rutherford at Molineux

A late howler from goalkeeper Sean O'Neill leaves Crusaders with it all to do in this European qualifier - despite a courageous effort against Wolves.

They produced a heroic defensive performance against the Premiership giants at Molineux last night.

Diogo Jota and Ruben Vinagre got the goals - the latter coming at the death after O'Neill spilled the ball.

It was tough on Crues - and O'Neill, who was otherwise excellent.

Yet Stephen Baxter can be immensely proud of his men.

Wolves, with their millionaire stars, dominated the possession and chances, but the Irish League side defended doggedly.

This was a ground where Chelsea and Manchester United had come unstuck at last season, but the Crues were not disgraced.

Next Thursday's trip to Seaview will not be quite as comfortable as Wolves might have hoped.

Crusaders had overcome B36 of the Faroe Islands in the first qualifying round, but this was always going to be a serious step up in class.

Nuno Espirito Santo fielded the same XI that started against Manchester City in the Premier League Asia Trophy final five days earlier.

And Wolves quickly seized control, taking a deserved lead through Jota in the 31st minute.

It followed a fine move, with the ball eventually fed wide to Adama Traore on the right who picked out Jota to sweep home first time.

It was a goal of some quality, and it needed to be to unlock a hard-working and well-organised Crues back line.

The Irish League side had been competitive in the opening stages and had the game's first chance in the seventh minute.

Paul Heatley forced a corner, and when Wolves only half cleared, Rory Hale sent a 20-yard half-volley just wide.

That seemed to wake the home side up and Moutinho tested Sean O'Neill - the first of several saves on a busy night for the Crues goalkeeper.

Moments later, Leander Dendoncker played in Jota, but the gifted Portuguese forward dragged his shot wide.

While the temperature had cooled slightly after a searingly hot day in the Midlands, Wolves were determined not to let up the heat on the Seaview side as the first half unfolded.

All the action was now coming at the several hundred Crues fans sat high in the Stan Cullis Stand, with Wolves pushing hard for a breakthrough. In all they had 15 attempts at goal in the half - but were frustrated for long periods.

Jota looked to unlock the visitors with a mazy run that saw him dance past three players, but Sean Ward came in with a great challenge.

When Wolves did get through, they found goalkeeper Sean O'Neill in top form.

He blocked a long-range shot from Dendoncker before saving a Neves effort that swerved menacingly.

Jota's classy finish finally forced the breakthrough three minutes later, and meant the scoreline more accurately reflected the game.

It was almost 2-0 five minutes before the break.

Neves's pass deflected through to Jota, with O'Neill brilliantly blocking with his foot.

The second half started in much the same way, with Wolves on the prowl again.

The home side brought on Mexican striker Raul Jimenez in place of Neves. The Crues responded by introducing Jordan Owens.

Gibbs-White, part of the England under-17 World Cup winning side, was growing in threat.

He should have made it 2-0 after climbing above Christopher Hegarty to meet Jimenez's cross, but guided his header wide.

With 15 minutes remaining Vinagre's cross was flicked on by Bennett, but Jimenez aimed his header straight at O'Neill.

The Crues kept their discipline almost to the end - but then disaster struck with seconds remaining.

A ball came in from Moutinho, O'Neill looked to collect but spilled it and Vinagre pounced from close range.

Suddenly the tie had a very different look.

Wolves: Rui Patricio, Bennett, Coady, Boly, Traore, Dendoncker, Neves (Jimenez 58), Joao Moutinho, Jonny (Ruben Vinagre 64), Gibbs-White (Saiss 84), Jota. Subs not used: Ruddy, , Sanderson, Perry, Kilman.

Crusaders: O'Neill, Ward, Lowry, Burns, Hegarty, Forsyth, Clarke (Jordan Owens 61), Heatley, O'Rourke, Rory Hale (Cushley 82), Caddell (Thompson 67). Subs not used: Harry Doherty, Beverland, Ronan Hale, Ruddy.

Referee: Kristoffer Karlsson (Goteborg).

Man of match: Sean Ward

Match rating: 7/10

Belfast Telegraph


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