Belfast Telegraph

Wolves test is on 'another level' for Crusaders, admits Owens

Battle ready: Jordan Owens
Battle ready: Jordan Owens

By Graham Luney

Crusaders striker Jordan Owens is fired up for what will be the toughest test of his career.

The club's record goalscorer has netted 218 goals in 518 appearances for the Crues but he has never faced a more daunting challenge than tonight's Europa League showdown with Wolves at Molineux.

Nuno Espírito Santo's side finished seventh in the English Premier League last season and also progressed to the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea all tasted defeat at Molineux during a remarkable return to the top flight which saw Wolves bag a European place for the first time in 39 years.

Stephen Baxter's side earned a big night out at the famous stadium in front of 31,000 fans after overcoming Faroese side B36 Torshavn, and the visitors will largely be in damage limitation mode this evening.

Owens was in the Crues team that lost to Fulham in the Europa League back in 2011 but he admits tonight's assignment is much more difficult.

"I haven't played in a game as big as this one," says the 30-year-old.

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"We played Fulham in the Europa League back in 2011, and that was big at the time, but this game will have a crowd of about 31,000.

"This is the biggest and toughest test for us.

"We've also played FC Copenhagen but this is another level.

"Wolves are a big club in England with a huge support and you can see the tickets have sold very quickly."

It's a money-spinning clash that will lift the Crusaders' prize money beyond the £500,000 mark. The club is guaranteed £448,000 and that figure will now be lifted by a £10,000 television deal with Premier Sports and gate receipts.

For Wolves, the game marks a return to Europe for the first time since 1980 when they lost 3-2 on aggregate to PSV Eindhoven.

The Premier League side will certainly be taking the competition seriously and, although Republic of Ireland international Matt Doherty remains on the sidelines with an injury, two of the Academy players who excelled in the pre-season tour of China — Dion Sanderson and Taylor Perry — have been included in the squad.

Among the players, they have 167 Champions League and 156 Europa League appearances between them, with Joao Moutinho lifting the latter trophy back in 2011 with Porto.

One of Wolves’ most experienced European individuals, goalkeeper Rui Patricio, is just seven shy of 100 appearances across the Champions League and Europa League.

The Fulham side Crusaders faced in 2011 was also a formidable force boasting Northern Ireland internationals Aaron Hughes and Chris Baird.

Martin Jol’s Cottagers, finalists in 2010 under Roy Hodgson, included Andrew Johnson, Damien Duff, Bobby Zamora, Steve Sidwell and Danny Murphy.

Owens has fond memories of those battles, along with current team-mates Sean O’Neill, Colin Coates and Declan Caddell, but the frontman can sense even greater levels of excitement ahead of the Molineux meeting.

“It will be some experience for the boys, I think everyone wants to play in the game,” adds Owens.

“Wolves finished seventh in the Premier League last season and Manchester City were the only top side to beat team.

“I’ve never been to Molineux and it’s going to be a special experience, albeit very tough.

“We are part-time players going up against a quality full-time side.

“You are hoping to keep it about 3-0 before the return leg at Seaview, and the guys will certainly want to keep the score down.

“The Premier League is probably the best league in the world and we just aren’t used to playing in that atmosphere in front of such a big crowd.

“But everyone is buzzing about the game and it gave us great incentive to beat B36 Torshavn to set up the game.”

Owens has earned a reputation for hurting teams but he’s also a willing worker when danger needs to be cleared.

“I’m thinking about getting two touches of the ball, not scoring a goal but if a chance comes my way I’ll need to take it,” he says.

“It will be a dream to score against a Premier League club.

“We will give it our best shot and see where it takes us. I might end up at centre back quite a bit. It’s important we keep the score down.”

Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo insists the Crues will be shown respect.

“No matter who you play against, it’s about how you prepare yourself to compete,” he said. “Of course, it’s a big game for the club, for the years without European football.

“It’s up to us to make something special so people are proud of us once again. It’s fantastic to be back at Molineux, what Molineux gives us is huge and a real adrenaline punch that we must take on to the pitch.”

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