Crusaders 1 (Heatley 14) Wolves 4 (Jimenez 15, 45, Bennett 38, Forsythe own goal, 78).
Raul Jimenez returned to Wolves’ starting line-up to fire them into the Europa League third qualifying round at the double as Nuno Espirito Santo’s side cruised to a 4-1 win at Crusaders.
Wolves came from behind to win the tie in Belfast, as Paul Heatley opened the scoring, but Jimenez’s brace sandwiching Ryan Bennett’s header and an own goal from Jordan Forsythe gave the visitors a 6-1 aggregate victory. It set them up for a gruelling 6,370-mile round trip next Thursday against Armenian side FC Pyunik in Yerevan, just three days before they travel to Leicester for their Premier League opener.
It was a historic night for Wolves; in Nuno’s 100th competitive game in charge, a 56th win made him the club’s most successful manager in their history from that number of matches. In the club’s first awayday in European competition for nearly 40 years, the team won for the first time competitively on continent soil since September 26, 1973 (against Portuguese side Belenenses 2-0), and Jimenez became the first Wolves player to score a brace in Europe since Derek Dougan against Carl Zeiss Jena in the UEFA Cup third round on December 8, 1971.
Roared on by a sell-out travelling army of 550 fans, Nuno named arguably his strongest available side, making one change from the 2-0 first leg win, which saw Jimenez replace Morgan Gibbs-White up front.
But it was the Northern Irish side who started the better team and threatened when a header from Jordan Owens was nodded off the line by Wolves captain Conor Coady. Going forwards, the visitors found it hard to break down the hosts early on, just as they did at Molineux for long spells.
Crusaders’ lively start was rewarded when they broke the deadlock to stun their Premier League visitors after 14 minutes as Wolves were still getting to grips with the artificial 4G pitch. Heatley got ahead of Ryan Bennett to connect with a cross from Jordan Forsythe to head past Rui Patricio.
But Crus’s joy was cut short as Wolves equalised within 60 seconds. Jimenez somehow found half a yard of space to produce a neat turn and shot from the edge of the box to find the bottom corner of the net after being teed up by strike partner Diogo Jota.
Jimenez went close to putting Wolves ahead soon after but headed fractionally over the bar from Joao Moutinho’s corner. The Mexico international threatened again around the half-hour mark, but could only drag his shot wide from outside the area.
Wolves finally went ahead seven minutes before the break when Bennett headed powerfully past goalkeeper Sean O’Neill from another Moutinho corner.
Just before half-time, Jimenez appeared to make the tie safe for Wolves by handing them a four-goal aggregate lead when he let fly with a thunderbolt from the edge of the box to give O’Neill no chance, after more good work from Jota.
Wolves had a setback within 10 minutes of the restart when Jimenez was forced off with a knock to his ankle. Tempers flared when Billy Joe Burns flew into Jota, who reacted to the challenge and both players were shown the yellow card by Slovenian referee Nejc Kajtazovic.
Moutinho went in search of a fourth Wolves goal on the night with a curling free kick that was heading into the bottom corner only for O’Neill to tip the ball wide, Gibbs-White seeing his follow-up blocked from the rebound.
But there was still time for Wolves to grab another goal, albeit in somewhat fortuitous circumstances. Forsythe, under pressure from Adama Traore, tried to head away a deep cross, only to succeed in sending a header over O’Neill and into the net.
Wolves remained on top and could have added to their lead, but had to settle for their biggest European win since beating Dutch side Den Haag 4-0 in the UEFA Cup second round on November 3, 1971.
Crusaders (5-4-1): O’Neill, Hegarty, Burns, Clarke (Caddell 78), Lowry, Ward, O’Rourke, Heatley, Hale (Thompson 83), Forsythe, Owens (Cushley 80).
Subs not used: H Doherty, Beverland, Coates, M Ruddy.
Wolves (3-5-2): Patricio; Bennett, Coady, Boly; Traore, Dendoncker, Neves (Saiss 68), Moutinho, Jonny; Jota (Vinagre 67), Jimenez (Gibbs-White 55).
Subs not used: J Ruddy, Kilman, Sanderson, Perry.
Referee: Nejc Kajtazovic (Slovenia)