Pyunik 0 Wolves 4 – Europa League report
Wolves all-but booked their place in the Europa League play-off round with a convincing victory against Armenian side Pyunik.
Matt Doherty, on his return from injury, opened the scoring and then Raul Jimenez made it 2-0 after good work from Diogo Jota and Ruben Vinagre.
Jota, with his third assist on the night, teed up Jimenez again just after the break as Wolves took charge of the tie in Yerevan.
Patrick Cutrone made his debut off the bench and he won a late penalty which was scored by Ruben Neves as Wolves made it a rout in the Armenian capital
Wolves could get used to this Europa League lark.
That's three matches, 10 goals and some impressive fine tuning ahead of the big Premier League kick off this weekend, writes Tim Spiers at Republican Stadium in Yerevan.
Sure the opposition were of a fairly meagre standard, but Nuno Espirito Santo's team put Pyunik to the sword with three finishes of real quality from Matt Doherty and Raul Jimenez, who went all 2018/19 on their hosts.
The pair – and Diogo Jota – were key performers in the second half of last season and all look in fine fettle. Jota provided assists for the first three goals here.
Professionalism is a word readily associated with this Wolves team and that's the manner with which they've approached this potentially arduous pre-season, which has included new tests and long jaunts. They've come through it with flying colours, getting their players match sharp while of course adding a few new faces (Patrick Cutrone enjoyed a tidy debut from the bench).
The litmus test comes in three days' time, when the after-effects of a 6,000-mile round trip may become apparent, but for now Wolves are doing a very good job of coasting through the Europa League qualifiers and, if Nuno continues to take the competition seriously in terms of selecting a strong side, who knows where this journey could take them.
Pyunik may be the Armenia word for phoenix but there's little-to-no chance of them rising from the ashes and saving this tie from the death.
Wolves proved they could do it on a balmy Thursday night in Armenia. Now can they prove it won't impact their league form in Leicester on Sunday?
As he had for the games against Crusaders, Nuno selected a strong XI with only Jonny Castro Otto and Ruben Neves rested with one eye on Sunday's Premier League opener at Leicester. Ruben Vinagre and Romain Saiss deputised.
Matt Doherty, back from a knee injury, replaced Adama Traore who didn't travel, while new boys Jesus Vallejo and Patrick Cutrone were on the bench.
The noise levels were whipped up by some ear-splittingly loud music and a couple of crowd singing sections before the teams entered the field at the 14,000 capacity Republic Stadium (which was around three-quarters full) to metal anthem Chop Suey, by Armenian favourites System of a Down. Hi Ho Silver Lining, eat your heart out.
Wolves' immediate task – watched on by 47 hardy travelling fans who had spent the best part of £1,000 at a week's notice to travel 3,000 miles to support their team – was to not offer the frisky hosts any encouragement and, after a testing opening, they managed to do that. Pyunik attacked down both flanks, trying to get in behind Doherty and Ruben Vinagre, but Rui Patricio's goal wasn't threatened save for a header from a free-kick which dropped not far wide.
Other than that, the half was about Wolves trying to click into gear. The hosts packed their defence and made it difficult to play through, making for a fairly dull spectacle. The first 30 minutes yielded no clear-cut chances, with a blocked Raul Jimenez shot being their only effort of note.
Then, just as it looked like it might be a long night, Wolves broke the deadlock with a quality goal.
Diogo Jota slipped a perfect pass to Doherty, who had crept into the box unnoticed, and the Irishman cutely clipped past the keeper to make it 1-0. Doherty, who scored eight times last season, was wiped out in the process but after some initial concern he was OK to continue.
The goal silenced the home crowd and burst the Pyunik bubble.
Wolves looked to take control and should have been 2-0 up when Joao Moutinho intercepted a woeful pass and drove towards the box, playing in Jota who lashed over from 15 yards.
Nuno's team didn't have to wait long to exert their authority and it was another goal laden with Premier League class that saw them double their lead.
Vinagre went on a barnstorming run from deep and played to Jota, who slotted across goal for the prolific Raul Jimenez who netted his third goal in seven days with an easy finish to make it 2-0 at half-time.
If the tie wasn't all-but over at this point, Wolves made sure just 35 seconds into the second half – and that man Jota was the architect once more.
His third assist of the night was a perfect pass to the onrushing Jimnez who took his time, picked his spot and beat keeper Dragojevic.
Wolves were absolutely flying now and they almost made it 4-0 when Jimenez came close to a hat-trick with a diving header cleared off the line from Vinagre's clipped cross.
Patrick Cutrone made his Wolves debut, giving Jota a rest on 63 minutes, while Jonny Castro Otto and Ruben Neves also entered the fray.
Thereafter the game died a death – Pyunik created a couple of half chances but Wolves played it safe and closed the game out.
The only thing of note to happen in the closing stages was a disgruntled pitch invader, who made a beeline for the Pyunik keeper. It certainly wasn't hit fault his team were outclassed in Yerevan.
There was time for a very late fourth as the tie was surely won. Cutrone won a spot kick when taking on his man – the Italian wanted to take it himself but Neves pulled rank and despatched the spot kick in stoppage time.
Pyunik (4-2-3-1): Dragojevic; Stankov, Zhestokov, Marku, Manucharyan; Mkrtchyan, Simonyan; Efimov (Burzanovic, 55), Mahmudov (Alfred, 63), Shevchuk; Miranyan.
Subs not used: Manukyan, Belov, Grifg.
Wolves (3-5-2): Patricio; Bennett, Coady (c), Boly; Doherty (Otto, 63); Moutinho, Saiss, Dendoncker, Vinagre; Jimenez (Neves, 71), Jota (Cutrone, 63).
Subs not used: Ruddy, Kilman, Vallejo, Perry.
Goals: Doherty (29), Jimenez (42, 46), Neves (pen 90+1)
Referee: Michael Fabri (Italy)
Wolves' Premier League campaign kicks of away at Leicester on Sunday. The return leg against Pyunik takes place next Thursday at Molineux.