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Wolves to face Crusaders in Europa League tie

Wolves will meet Crusaders in their first game back in European competition in 39 years next week.

The Northern Irish outfit beat B36 Torshavn from the Faroe Islands 3-2 in the Europa League first qualifying round, second leg on Thursday night to win 5-2 on aggregate to earn a crack at Premier League opposition.

That means Crusaders will be at Molineux for the second qualifying round first leg on Thursday, July 25. The return will be at the 3,393-capacity Seaview ground – with its own 4G artificial pitch – in North Belfast on Thursday, August 1.

Jordan Forsythe gave Crusaders a third-minute lead at Torshavn’s Gundadular ground and Paul Heatley seemed to clinch the tie for the Irish Cup winners in the 28th minute after he made it 2-0 on the night and 4-0 overall. But Hugil Samuelson (37) and Lukasz Cieslewicz (51) levelled on the evening and halved Crusaders’ four-goal cushion, only for Heatley to grab his second goal to give the Northern Irish side a 3-2 second-leg win.

More than 20,000 tickets have been sold – before they went on general sale on Thursday – for Wolves’ first competitive game in Europe since October 1, 1980, when they beat PSV Eindhoven in the UEFA Cup first round 1-0 only to go out 3-2 on aggregate.

Crusaders, who play in red and black, averaged home crowds of 1,394 last season and are one of four teams based in Belfast, with closest rivals Cliftonville – who they contest the North Belfast derby with – Glentoran and Linfield. They have won the NIFL Championship title three times (2014-15, 2015-16and 2017-18) since the league was reformed in 2008, and have spent 70 seasons in Northern Ireland’s top flight. They hold the joint record for most points in the league (91), achieved in 2015-16 and 2017-18, the latter when they set the league record for most goals (106) and highest goal difference (+68).

In 2009, Crusaders became the first team in the Irish League to install a 4G artificial pitch, endorsed by UEFA. The move has ensured that postponements due to bad weather have not affected Seaview as much as some other grounds. They are managed by former striker Stephen Baxter, who scored 63 goals in 166 games for rusaders over two spells from 1994-98 and from 2000-02. Baxter is the longest-serving manager in the league having been in post since February 2005.