Raul Jimenez scores late winner to take Wolves to brink of Europa League knockout stages

Jon Culley
The Telegraph
Raul Jimenez scored a late winner to help Wolves defeat Slovan Bratislava - Getty Images Europe
Raul Jimenez scored a late winner to help Wolves defeat Slovan Bratislava - Getty Images Europe

A night that threatened frustration for Wolves finally brought the victory that takes Nuno Espirito Santo’s side to the brink of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Europa League.

Raul Jimenez headed the winning goal after two of 12 minutes added to the 90, after a serious head injury to Slovan midfielder Kenan Bajric in the closing stages - inflicted by the boot of Jimenez, albeit entirely accidentally.

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Wolves, for whom Ruben Neves had earlier seen a penalty kept out  - one of a string of saves by Slovan goalkeeper Dominik Greif - need one point from their final two group fixtures - away to Sporting Braga and at home to Besiktas - to secure a place in the last 32.

This was the 23rd fixture of a Wolves season that began in July thanks to the arduous route they were required to follow to reach the group stages.

Five of Nuno’s starting line-up had played in most of those matches. The workload on his squad must surely take a toll but so far their legs are still strong. Joao Moutinho and Raul Jimenez, two of the five, drew the first saves of the night from Greif, who did well from a wrong-footed start to keep out a deflected shot from the former as Wolves pressed for an early breakthrough.

Greif was then stretched to keep out an angled drive from Jimenez after a fine pass by Matt Doherty. Traore’s pace stretched the visiting left back repeatedly. 

Yet, after a 2-1 victory against these opponents in Slovakia, Wolves could not exert any control in the first half.  Slovan used both flanks in some patient build-up play, but after a chance was squandered by Kenan Bajric early on they created no real openings.

Wolves should have broken the deadlock early in the second half when a foul by Slovan captain Vasil Bozhikov on Pedro Neto brought them a penalty. Yet, after a delay of two to three minutes for Neto to receive treatment for an injury to his right foot or ankle, Greif again denied the home side, diving to his right to save from Neves, who cursed his inaccuracy as he walked away. 

Yet Wolves by then were looking consistently more dangerous than in the first half.  Three times in the space of 10 minutes, Doherty got in behind the Bratislava defence, on the third of those occasions, on the end of a lovely chipped pass by Moutinho, hooked the ball goalwards, only for another excellent save from Greif to keep it out.

Neves, anxious to atone for his miss from the spot, almost did so with a viciously dipping shot from 35 yards. It was straight at Greif, although struck with such power than the goalkeeper could only parry it. Frustratingly for Wolves, the ball rebounded  to no one.

<span>Kenan Bajric's injury caused a lengthy delay at Molineux </span> <span>Credit: Getty Images </span>
Kenan Bajric's injury caused a lengthy delay at Molineux Credit: Getty Images

Then came the incident that caused so much concern for both sets of players as Bajric was struck full in the face by the boot of Raul Jimenez as the Wolves player attempted an overhead kick.  The contact seemed accidental, but Jimenez was booked nonetheless, presumably for dangerous play.

Play was held up for almost 10 minutes as Bajric was tended inside the Slovan penalty area, medics necessarily taking the utmost care to move the player on to the stretcher without risking further damage to what looked like a serious head injury.

Jimenez stood over the prone Bajric throughout this period, yet moments after play resume was focused enough to head home a Traore cross and grab Wolves the three points.

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