Europa League play-off: Wolves 2 Torino 1 (Wolves win 5-3 on aggregate)
Wolves withstood a bruising battle at times to make the group stages of the Europa League against Torino on another memorable night at Molineux.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side were deserved winners after an edgy start but were grateful to the Italians, who missed several chances to have pushed the tie into extra-time in what proved to be a testing encounter for Diogo Jota, who was fouled on numerous occasions and had two players booked for challenges on him, while Leander Dendoncker was left limping.
Raul Jimenez gave Wolves a 32nd-minute lead but the game ultimately swung their way in two second-half minutes when Andrea Belotti (57) headed Torino level only for Dendoncker (58) to grab what proved the winner for Nuno’s men and send them into Friday’s draw.
Just like in the first leg, Adama Traore was a thorn in the Italians’ side. The Spanish flier made Jimenez’s goal and was a constant outlet ball for Wolves.
Nuno made four changes from the side that drew 1-1 against Burnley on Sunday, with Jesus Vallejo, Traore, Dendoncker and Romain Saiss replacing Matt Doherty, Ryan Bennett, Morgan Gibbs-White and Ruben Neves.
And the Italians wasted no time attempting to make life uncomfortable for Wolves, even trotting to warm up in front of the South Bank before kick-off after the handshakes, before Conor Coady ran in front of them to restore order.
But the visitors’ efforts seemed to have an effect. In an unconvincing start, Wolves regularly gave the ball away, and Vallejo in particular put himself under pressure with a couple of uncomfortable moments due to a poor touch or the wrong decision.
Looking to eat into their 3-2 deficit, Torino started the better side and forced three half chances from distance.
Left wing back Temitayo Aina cut inside and fired a low effort wide which took a deflection on its way behind.
Midfielder Daniele Baselli met the resulting corner with a full-blooded volley from the edge of the D that flew several yards off target.
Another volley saw the Turin side threaten again, this time Tomas Rincon met Vallejo’s clearing header with a thunderous effort that sailed off target.
But Wolves were about to put their stamp on the game. Just after the midpoint of the first period, Traore made a trademark run forward from deep. Powering his way past two challenges, he surged into the penalty area before unleashing a crisp, low drive that struck keeper Salvatore Sirigu’s legs.
Traore was then the architect of the breakthrough that gave Wolves the lead. There looked to be no way through as he wriggled to the byeline with Armando Izzo and Aina in pursuit. But the converted wing back surprised both by turning inside onto his left foot and crossing for Jimenez, who coolly beat Sirigu at his near post with a first-time low finish.
It was the Mexican’s sixth goal in Europe and seventh of the season, giving Wolves a 4-2 lead over the tie.
Wolves were given a warning however when Belotti’s header forced Rui Patricio to smother to his left after he rose highest to Lorenzo Di Silvestri’s cross.
Torino had a deadball expert in Daniele Baselli and the midfielder had Wolves in all sorts of trouble after the break.
First his curling free kick from out wide had Patricio leaping to palm the ball away, then his set-piece from a similar position was met by Belotti’s powerful header to equalise.
All credit to Wolves however; their response was to attack and they regained the lead within 60 seconds. Dendoncker was perfectly placed to calmly sidefoot the ball in off the post after Dioga Jota had tenaciously won possession back just inside the Torino box and forced Sirigu into a diving save to block his angled shot.
Jota appeared to be the Italians’ chief target and Brazilian centre back Bremer was the second player to be booked for a challenge on him to follow Sasa Lukic.
The Turin side weren’t done though and striker Simone Zaza curled inches wide from th edge of the box then hooked just off target after latching onto a loose ball in the box.
Wolves could have ended any lingering hopes of a comeback through Dendoncker, but the Belgian midfielder saw his shot blocked by Sirigu after a clever one-two with Jimenez on the edge of the box put him in on goal.
Still Torino’s fire wasn’t extinguished and there was time for substitute Soualiho Meite to curl inches wide from the edge of the box, before Belotti scooped the ball over the bar after Wolves wasted several chances to clear their lines.
But they held out with some breathing space over the two legs to deservedly clinch their place in the group stages.
Wolves (3-5-2): Patricio; Vallejo, Coady, Boly; Traore, Dendoncker, Saiss, Moutinho (Neves 90), Jonny; Jimenez (Neto 90+1), Jota (Cutrone 81).
Subs not used: Ruddy, Bennett, Gibbs-White, Vinagre.
Torino (3-5-2): Sirigu; Izzo, Bremer, Bonifazi; De Silvestri, Baselli, Rincon (Meite 72), Lukic, Aina (Berenguer 70); Belotti, Zaza (Millico 82).
Subs not used: Rosati, Singo, Parigini, Djidji.
Referee: Jesus Gil Manzano (Spain).