Wolves 4 Espanyol 0.
Diogo Jota’s second successive Europa League hat-trick and a majestic goal from Ruben Neves saw Wolves take a giant leap towards the last 16 of the Europa League after this thumping victory over Espanyol.
Next week’s return leg in Barcelona against La Liga’s bottom side now looks a formality for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side, who equalled their biggest victory of the season in the competition.
Jota ended his eight-match drought how he started it – with a Europa League treble – as he took his tally to 12 goals this season after repeating his heroics against Besiktas in December.
But it was another long-range special from Neves that fans will recall more as he evoked memories of his never-to-be-forgotten wonder strike against Derby in the Championship title winning season from April 11, 2018.
Jota became only the third player to score successive trebles in the Europa League and first for eight years after Klaus-Jan Huntelaar for Schalke in 2012 to register back-to-back hat-tricks in this competition, and he has now been directly involved in 14 goals in 11 European games this season.
Wolves, so often the team to come from behind this season, started the tie as they meant to go on – on the offensive.
Joao Moutinho flashed a rising shot over the bar from 25 yards after Adama Traore burst forward and found Raul Jimenez, who squared.
Although Lei Wu’s far post close-range volley needed the assured hands of Rui Patricio, Wolves were looking to shoot on sight and Neves produced a curling shot way over the bar following Moutinho’s short corner.
The early goal Wolves threatened came after a quarter of an hour when Jota struck his 10th goal of the season.
The former Atletico Madrid forward swept home off Victor Sanchez after Moutinho’s outswinging corner had been glanced on by Jimenez, the Portuguese connecting as the ball appeared to drop behind him.
It was the first time Nuno’s side have scored first in a match since the 4-0 defeat of Besiktas on 12 December, 13 games ago.
The home side were fleet of foot and incisive about their attacks, and Jimenez sent the electric Traore racing through the middle only for the winger to be denied by goalkeeper Andres Prieto.
But Espanyol were a threat on the break and Oscar Melendo’s volley deflected over off Moutinho.
Wolves weren’t having it all their own way by any means.
The normally hugely reliable Patricio almost gifted Espanyol an equaliser in the 31st minute.
Attempting to volley away a clearance, the Portugal number one skewed his kick and let in Facundo Ferreyra, whose shot Patricio parried as he regained his composure.
As the first half became scrappy, Didac Vila’s looping header was held on the line by Patricio.
The only flashpoint came just before half-time when Ander Iturraspe and Jota squared up after a challenge in front of the Wolves dugout.
The pair pressed their heads together, before the Espanyol man appeared to make a forward thrust with his. Iturraspe was booked, so bizarrely was Moutinho, for protesting.
Lei Wu went desperately close to equalising in the 49th minute, but his superb glancing header just fell wide from Melendo’s cross with Patricio at full stretch.
But all that was forgotten as Wolves doubled their lead four minutes later – and it was a strike to live long in the memory.
Neves controlled a clearance after Traore’s cross had been headed out, and in one sweet moment, flicked the ball up for himself before delivering an unstoppable volley from 25 yards which arrowed past bemused Andres Prieto in the Espanyol goal.
That lifted the roof off Molineux, but more importantly in the context of the way the game was now heading, it took the heat off Wolves, who had not been enjoying their most comfortable performance.
If there were lingering doubts at the outcome, they vanished in the 67th minute when Wolves scored their third goal.
It was the best team move of the night as Matt Doherty played a one-two with Jimenez before spotting diagonal run of Jota, who somehow managed to screw home another deflected shot, this time off Victor Gomez as the angle became ridiculously narrow.
Wolves went desperately close to another spectacular long-range goal. This time, substitute Pedro Neto raced forwards and let fly from 25 yards only to see his curling, powerful effort clip the angle and fly behind.
But Jota still wasn’t finished as he completed his hat-trick nine minutes from time, this time with a fine solo effort.
Cutting in from the left, he smashed a right-foot drive inside Prieto’s right-hand post from the edge of the box.
Wolves (3-4-3, 3-5-2 61 mins): Patricio 7; Boly 8, Coady © 7, Saiss 7; Doherty 8, Neves 8, Moutinho 7, Jonny 7; Traore 8 (Dendoncker 61 mins 6), Jimenez 7 (Neto 75 mins 6), Jota 8 (Podence 82 mins, 6).
Subs not used: Ruddy, Jordao, Campana, Kilman.
Espanyol (4-4-2): Prieto 7; Gomez 6, Naldo 6, Calero 5, Vila 6; Lei Wu 8 (Embarba 72 mins, 6), Sanchez © 5, Iturraspe 5 (David Lopez 61 mins, 6), Vargas 5; Ferreyra 6, Melendo 6 (Calleri 62 mins, 6).
Subs not used: Diego Lopez, Pedrosa, Darder, Cabrera.
Referee: Tobias Stieler (Germany). 7/10