Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders Hale sets his sights on weaving more magic at Molineux

Wolves v Crusaders, Europa League Qualifying Round Two, Molineux, Tomorrow, 7.45pm

Golden memories: Rory Hale fondly recalls his previous visits to Molineux while playing for Aston Villa’s Under-23 side
Golden memories: Rory Hale fondly recalls his previous visits to Molineux while playing for Aston Villa’s Under-23 side
In March 2017, Rory Hale slotted in a late penalty in a 2-1 victory
Rory Hale
Reunited: Wolves right-back Adama Traore is a former team-mate of Rory Hale’s at Aston Villa

By Graham Luney

Rory Hale has urged his Crusaders team-mates to speak to him if they want goalscoring tips for Molineux.

The 22-year-old midfielder has already brought his shooting boots to the home of Wolves, scoring a late winner while on duty for Aston Villa's Under-23s.

Hale, who is joined at Seaview by his younger brother Ronan, knows it won't be easy to add to his Molineux tally but he's relishing the challenge.

Rory, whose grandfather Danny Hale was a Crusaders legend back in the 1960s, progressed through the youth ranks at Villa before joining Galway United.

Kenny Shiels brought him to Derry City and Crues boss Stephen Baxter was successful in his bid to lure the midfielder to the Shore Road.

Fresh from winning the County Antrim Shield and Tennent's Irish Cup in his first season with the Crues, Hale is now savouring life on the European stage.

With B36 Torshavn already put to the sword, English Premier League side Wolves lie in wait in the second qualifying round of the Europa League, with the first leg at Molineux tomorrow night.

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It's a bumper money-spinning tie for an Irish League club, one that will raise Crusaders' profile further, and Hale is no stranger to a little Molineux magic himself.

"I've played at Molineux twice and won both games, 1-0 and 2-1," said Hale.

"I managed to score a late winner in the 2-1 game with an 85th-minute penalty kick in March 2017, so if anyone wants any scoring tips there I'm ready to offer advice.

"Both games were with Aston Villa's Under-23s against Wolves Under-23s. Villa brought a lot of support so you got a few hundred fans for a derby game.

"This is a whole different kettle of fish, a completely different atmosphere with the added significance of Wolves' first European tie in nearly 40 years. Their fans will be up for it.

"I've played with Adama Traore when he was at Aston Villa.

"I've also played against some of the younger players such as Morgan Gibbs-White.

"You know you are coming up against world-class players."

If Crusaders can win a penalty tomorrow night, Hale can say he's been there, done it.

But any Crues attacks are likely to be limited, with the side that finished seventh in the Premier League keen to flex their muscles in Europe again.

Nuno Espirito Santo's men, who also reached the FA Cup semi-finals last season, have just returned from the Far East where they defeated Manchester City on penalties to win the Premier League Asia Trophy.

Irish League sides often encounter damage limitation exercises in Europe but few as daunting as this one.

"It will be a great experience for everyone," added Hale.

"It's a very modern stadium and everything about it is top drawer.

"The surface is like a carpet so there can be no excuses about bad touches.

"We will have to stay in the tie as long as possible and try to enjoy it because this opportunity might not come again.

"We will take it in 10-minute blocks and try to frustrate them. It's important not to take an absolute hammering, because a side like that can really do damage, but we want to shut them out as long as possible.

"I don't think there's anything to fear.

"You have to express yourself and take it as a free hit."

Close to 31,000 fans will pack into Molineux, including around 500 visiting supporters, and Hale believes it will be an unforgettable occasion.

"It's going to be an unreal experience playing in front of more than 30,000 at Molineux," he added. "I thought the two games against the Faroes team were comfortable enough, we could have won by seven goals had we taken our chances.

"It's a great tie for us and everyone is looking forward to it.

"It takes a little time to adjust to different leagues but I've had a good pre-season under my belt and everyone wants to be involved in these massive games."

• Cardiff City have tabled a £1.5m bid for Oxford United winger Gavin Whyte.

The former Crusaders ace was linked with a move to Nottingham Forest but now Cardiff have joined the chase.

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