Wolves 0 Braga 1
Wolves’ woes continued but this time on the European stage as they went down by the only goal scored by Ruben Neves’s best mate Ricardo Horta.
Horta pounced in clinical fashion in the 71st minute to punish Nuno Espirito Santo’s side, after a pass from Ryan Bennett was intercepted by Galeno who crossed for the finish.
Wolves were the better side but failed to turn their dominance into converted chances. Patrick Cutrone missed two and Leander Dendoncker forced a fine save from Matheus, while Raul Jimenez glanced wide at the death. But there was to be no comeback as Wolves, who had won all their six of their previous Europa League games, lost their first in the group stages.
Home fans were keen for a reaction from Saturday’s 5-2 thrashing against Chelsea and head coach Nuno rang the changes after successive defeats and eight goals conceded. There were five changes as Ryan Bennett, Willy Boly, Matt Doherty, Morgan Gibbs-White and Cutrone replaced Jesus Vallejo, Romain Saiss, Adama Traore, Joao Moutinho and Diogo Jota.
The signs of dissent in the air were reflected in the sight of a few hundred empty seats in a gate of 28,314, the first time Molineux has been less than sold out in the home areas in seven home games this season.
And that sense of frustration could have grown as Braga threatened first in the opening minute. Bennett cleared Galeno’s cross as far as Fransergio, whose curling left-footed shot was met by a firm block.
That seemed to settle Wolves and they went on to control the first half, with Braga largely content to sit back and try to contain them.
Wolves’ first foray forward saw Cutrone bear down on goal courtesy of Gibbs-White’s superb pass from left to right into his path. But the Italian striker decided to take a touch when a volley might have been the better option and the ball ran out of play.
Midway through the first half, Cutrone was presented with another chance, this time after Jimenez brought down Boly’s giant clearance and crossed for the Italian to chest down and lash over left-footed from close range.
Galeno then comically attempted to win a penalty but the Danish referee Jakhob Kehlet quite rightly was having none of it. The winger skipped past Coady, who brushed him with his arm and Galeno responded with a full-length dive.
Braga manager Ricardo Sa Pinto remonstrated forcefully at the fourth official before turning on his heels and booted a water bottle towards the stand.
Very little had been seen of Braga going forward but Ricardo Esgaio’s floated cross-cum-shot had goalkeeper Rui Patricio back-pedalling before it cleared the angle.
Wolves returned to the attack and two minutes before the break, Cutrone should have found the net. Doherty did well to pick him out with a short diagonal ball and he raced into the box only to fire wide with goalkeeper Matheus to beat.
Braga started the second half as they had the first – with the initial attack. This time Paulinho delayed his shot but still managed a low effort which flew straight at Patricio as Coady slid in.
Wolves needed a goal and they responded with a shot from Neves, but he got his angles wrong and his 30-yarder flew high over the bar. The home side looked like they had got their act together however, and although Jimenez couldn’t quite reach Jonny’s cross deflected off Edgaio’s back, it dropped perfectly for Leander Dendoncker, whose drive hit the right leg of Matheus.
But as quickly as they looked like they were getting Braga on the ropes, Wolves dropped the tempo and allowed them off the hook.
Even the introduction of the mercurial Moutinho, for Gibbs-White in the 67th minute, failed to inspire Wolves. Instead it was the Portuguese side who seized the initiative against the run of play to go ahead soon after.
Bennett’s pass down the line intended for Doherty looked telegraphed and it was swiftly blocked by Galeno, who surged forwards and picked out Horta, completely unmarked at the far post. The winger lashed a swerving shot with the outside of his right foot just inside Patricio’s just near post. It was the fifth goal of the season, with all of them in four Europa League ties.
Diogo Jota and Adama Traore came on for Wolves who were now seriously chasing the game. Jimenez perhaps should have done better when heading straight at Matheus on the run and Willy Boly then tried his luck from 25 yards and the keeper gratefully smothered.
Neves forced a fine save in the second of six minutes added on, his 30-yard drive being palmed away by Matheus diving to his left, before Jimenez’s sidefooted effort hit Pablo Santos.
Wolves continued to play the game in Braga’s half but the Portuguese side defended well and there were few gaps to exploit. Right at the death, Traore won a free kick on the right but it summed up the hosts luck on the night when Jimenez could only glance wide from Moutinho’s kick.
Wolves: Patricio; Bennett, Coady, Boly; Doherty (Traore 80), Neves, Dendoncker (Jota 76), Gibbs-White (Moutinho 67), Jonny; Cutrone, Jimenez.
Unused subs: Ruddy, Vinagre, Saiss, Neto.
Braga: Matheus, Esgaio, Viana, Santos, Sequeira, Fransergio, Palhinha, A Horta (Novais 86), R Horta (Costa 88), Paulinho, Galeno (Francisco 84).
Unused subs: Eduardo, Caludemir, Hassan, Viana.
Referee: Jakhob Kehlet (Denmark).