Wolverhampton Wanderers’ produced a stirring Europa League fightback to beat Slovan Bratislava in Slovakia and move into the second spot in Group K.
Trailing at half-time to Andraz Sporar’s deflected shot, Wolves scored twice in the space of five second-half minutes through Romain Saiss and a penalty by Raul Jimenez.
Morocco midfielder Saiss equalised with a shot which keeper Dominik Greif should have kept out before Jimenez was fouled by Vernon de Marco – Mexico forward picking himself up to score from the spot.
Substitute Diogo Jota was sent off in the 87th minute for two yellow cards in the space of one minute but Wolves held on to secure a superb win.
The match was officially played ‘behind closed doors’ because of racist chanting and banners during a Europa League play-off match at the Tehelne Pole Stadium.
However, Slovan was allowed to give tickets away to schools and football academies, which meant the hosts were cheered on by 20,000 children in Slovakia’s capital.
Wolves reach the halfway point of the group campaign one point behind leaders Sporting Braga – 2-1 winners in Turkey against Besiktas – after securing back-to-back wins.
There is still a lot of work to be done to secure a place in the knockout stage but the signs are positive for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side, who produced a performance which oozed character to turn it around in Bratislava.
For the first 45 minutes, Wolves were distinctly second best – Sporar giving the hosts the lead with a shot which came off Conor Coady and beat Rui Patricio.
Willy Boly – who hit the 93rd-minute winner in Besiktas in the previous group game – went close with a header but the hosts dominated before Adama Traore was introduced at the start of the second half.
Traore immediately injected pace and tempo to Wolves’ play, although it required a howler by Greif for the visitors to equalise – Saiss’ shot bobbling twice before squirming under the keeper and into the net.
Slovan Bratislava had not lost a home game since April 2018 but found themselves behind when Jimenez kept his composure from the spot after being fouled by De Marco.
The visitors were forced to endure a nervy ending when Portuguese forward Jota was sent off but the visitors, now unbeaten in seven league and cup games, were full value for their win after an exceptional second-half display.
Only 200 Wolves fans, who each paid £55 for a ticket and had been told not to wear club colours, were inside the ground to witness their team’s gutsy victory.
The hosts were cheered on by thousands of excitable schoolchildren despite being banned from selling tickets. Under Article 73 of Uefa’s regulations, accompanied children, aged 14 and under, from local schools and football academies could be invited.
There was a deafening noise inside the ground and the loud atmosphere buoyed the hosts before Wolves came roaring back.
At one point, the young fans, many sporting the home team’s colours, managed to start a Mexican wave.
However, the voices of Wolves’ small contingent could be heard loud and clear at the end of a memorable night for the Black Country club.
Wolves head back to England to prepare for Sunday’s Premier League game at Newcastle (14:00 GMT), while their next Europa League Group K game is at home to Slovan Bratislava on 7 November (20:00 GMT).
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Source – BBC