Europa League: Wolves beat gritty Crusaders 2-0 on European return
Ruben Vinagre's injury-time strike gave Wolves a two-goal lead at the halfway point of their Europa League second round qualifier against Crusaders.
Diogo Jota's 37th-minute goal gave the Premier League side a well-earned lead after creating a string of chances.
But the hosts, who are back in Europe after a 39-year absence, were frustrated by their opponents who dug in to limit the damage.
And it took until the 93rd for Vinagre to pounce and put Wolves in command.
The sides will meet again for the second leg in Belfast on Thursday, 1 August.
The winners will meet either Czech side FK Jablonec or Armenia's Pyunik in the third qualifying round, with the latter taking a 2-1 lead into their second leg.
Wolves dominate on European return
In truth, Wolves' tally of 30 shots gives a far more accurate depiction of their dominance than their two-goal winning margin.
In front of nearly 30,000 fans at Molineux, the hosts were always expected to dominate proceedings against a side that only offered players their first professional contracts at the beginning of last season.
After Crues midfielder Rory Hale sent a dipping volley just wide after seven minutes, the game settled into the pattern that most onlookers had expected.
With wing-backs Adama Traore and Jonny Castro Otto pushing forward to make the pitch as wide as possible, Wolves sought to overwhelm the visitors in the final third.
However Crusaders set up camp with two banks of five forcing Wolves into long range efforts which were well dealt with by goalkeeper Sean O'Neill.
With less than 10 minutes to go before the break, Jota eventually broke Crusaders resistance with a wonderful strike, swivelling to power home Traore's cross on the half-volley.
Crues' discipline pays off
Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter said before the game that a loss of three goals or less would reflect a job well done for his team.
Indeed, Baxter will return to north Belfast thoroughly pleased with his side's display.
Captain O'Neill made a string of good saves including a fantastic stop with his legs to deny Jota a second before half-time.
In front of him, veteran defender Sean Ward marshalled the five-man defence with aplomb, forcing manager Nuno Espirito Santo to bring on striker Raul Jimenez, who has only recently returned to training after featuring for Mexico in the Gold Cup.
Teenager Morgan Gibbs-White had a number of opportunities for Wolves, the best of which coming in the 63rd minute when the striker sent his downward header wide of the post.
After passing up a number of opportunities, clear chances seemed to dry up as Wolves seemed destined to take a 1-0 lead to Seaview next week.
However, O'Neill, after all his endeavours earlier in the contest, took his eye off a late cross allowing Vinagre the simplest of tap-ins at the back post.
'Our best performance in 20 years' - what the managers said...
Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo to Premier Sports: "It's tough, the season starts earlier. Players come in on different dates.
"We showed we are ready but not as sharp and accurate as we should be. Crusaders fought for every ball to prevent goals. It will be tough [in the second leg]. We will have to be focused in Belfast.
"It [the second goal] makes a difference. To control the levels of anxiety during the game is tough. When a team are organised and fight for their lives, it's difficult.
"It was a special night at Molineux, the atmosphere was good.
"We must bring players. That's obvious. But we must bring quality to maintain our high standards."
Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter to Premier Sports: "We thought we'd got out of here with a 1-0. It wasn't to be.
"Sean O'Neill was one of our best players, he made some wonderful saves. He's a wee bit gutted.
"We gave a masterclass in defending. We're a small part-time football club from Northern Ireland but we held a great shape.
"It might be a little bit different [in the second leg] with a 3,000 stadium and plastic pitch.
"It was difficult to get any possession tonight. We could have come here and lost by 10 goals. But this is a proud moment in our history.
"I've been here 20 years as a player and manager and that's the best performance I've ever seen from us."
- 11Rui Patrício
- 8NevesSubstituted forJiménezat 58'minutes
- 28João Moutinho
- 19Castro OttoSubstituted forVinagreat 64'minutes
- 17Gibbs-WhiteSubstituted forSaïssat 85'minutes
- 12CaddellSubstituted forThompsonat 67'minutes
- 10HaleSubstituted forCushleyat 82'minutes
- 25ClarkeSubstituted forOwensat 61'minutes
- Kristoffer Karlsson
- Shots on Target