Raul Jimenez scores twice as Wolves ease past Crusaders
Raul Jimenez powered Wolves past Crusaders to set them up for a 6,370-mile round trip to Armenia as they continue their Europa League dream.
The striker’s brace helped earn a 4-1 win in Belfast – although they now face a gruelling journey just 72 hours before their Premier League campaign starts.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side were forced to come from behind on Thursday but won their second round qualifying tie 6-1 on aggregate.
Ryan Bennett’s early own goal gave the visitors a scare but Jimenez’s first-half brace – either side of Bennett’s header at the right end – put Wolves on course for victory.
Jordan Forsythe’s own goal added a fourth for the visitors, who will now travel to FC Pyunik next week in the third qualifying round.
Pyunik beat Jablonec 2-1 on aggregate and Wolves must make the trip for Thursday’s game ahead of next Sunday’s Premier League opener at Leicester.
It is the price they pay for last season’s success and the journey to Armenia, which borders Iran, will test a small squad.
Nuno went strong again against Crusaders but Wolves were pinned in early and Jordan Owens’ second-minute header forced Conor Coady to hastily clear.
And the hosts were rewarded for a bright start at Seaview with a shock opener after 13 minutes.
Forsythe’s cross was meant for Paul Heatley, who rose with Bennett, only for the Wolves defender to plant a header past Rui Patricio.
But the hosts’ lead lasted just two minutes as Jimenez turned and fired in from 16 yards to level.
The Mexico star then flicked a header over the crossbar after 22 minutes as Wolves tried to find some composure but Crusaders refused to let them settle early.
Stephen Baxter’s side picked up from their snappy and committed performance from the first leg.
But, slowly, Wolves did begin to take control and Bennett made up for his early own goal when he crashed in a seven-yard header from Joao Moutinho’s corner seven minutes before the break.
Jimenez then made it 3-1 a minute from half-time when, after linking with Jota on the edge of the box, he blasted in his second from 18 yards.
Needing four to win, Crusaders’ race was run and Sean O’Neill had to be alert to palm away Moutinho’s low free-kick 11 minutes after the restart.
Jimenez had already been replaced after getting a knock to the foot while Jota and Ruben Neves were withdrawn shortly afterwards.
Wolves knew the game was theirs as the tempo dropped but there was still time for Forsythe to loop a header into his own net to make it 4-1 with 13 minutes remaining.