After over-running modest Armenian visitors here, Wolves will begin duelling next week with Torino for a place in the Europa League group stage. That is when things will get wonderfully serious; this was an entertaining breeze. Nuno Espírito Santo and nearly 30,000 fans watched with glee as a youthful Wolves side completed an 8-0 aggregate win over Pyunik thanks mainly to a thrilling 10-minute spell in the second half.
Fringe players came to the fore, suggesting that one of the Premier League’s smallest squads has encouraging strength in depth. Pedro Neto and Morgan Gibbs-White struck their first goals for the club before Ruben Vinagre rounded off a fine move to claim another. Diogo Jota came off the bench to add a spectacular fourth.
The fact that Molineux was close to capacity reflected Wolves’ fans enthusiasm for their club’s first campaign in a major continental competition for nearly four decades. There will be a full house in a fortnight when they host Torino for the second leg of their play-off following next Thursday’s first leg in Italy. Wolves are unlikely to have come back from that with as comfortable a lead as they had here. Their 4-0 win in Armenia meant they went into this match with not so much a cushion as a chaise longue but Nuno did his bit for diplomacy by insisting that the Armenian side could not be taken lightly. If hubris is best avoided, so too are injuries, especially before a gruelling series of matches, and that is why Nuno began with an unfamiliar lineup.
Monday’s Premier League duel with Manchester United is the first of five matches in 14 days for Wolves, including the two-legged showdown with Torino, so Nuno made nine alterations to the side that kicked off their domestic campaign with a draw at Leicester last Saturday. Three summer signings made their first starts for the club, two of them forming the strike force. Neto, a 19-year-old Portuguese forward who joined from Lazio for £16m, impressed the most but his new strike partner, the 21-year-old Italian Patrick Cutrone, also caught the eye.
At the back Jesus Vallejo, who joined on loan from Real Madrid after captaining Spain’s U-21s to victory in this summer’s European Championship, started in central defence. That rearguard also included Max Kilman, a 22-year-old making his first senior start for Wolves – his prior international experience consisted of 25 caps for England’s futsal team.
The home crowd were in good voice, excited by the prospect of a memorable European campaign. They could even have convinced themselves that Pyunik, clad all in white, were Real Madrid until, that is, the visitors started playing. Though capable of dainty one-touch stuff, Pyunik offered no penetration and little physical presence. After 10 minutes of tippy-tappy tedium Wolves raised the tempo and nearly took the lead.
Neto was the instigator, turning smartly on the right before charging towards the box and drilling a low shot just wide. Cutrone went close moments later, blasting a volley a yard over after a Wolves corner triggered chaos in the visitors’ area. Neto, pleasingly busy throughout, should have done better in the 20th minute when the ball broke to him at the edge of the area and he curled a first-time shot into the Stan Cullis Stand. One minute later Romain Saïss tried to show him how it’s done but his free-kick from 20 yards brushed past the post.
Wolves killed off the tie with three well worked goals in 10 minutes. Neto scored the first, tapping in from close range after a low pass across the face of goal by Cutrone. Then Neto matched that service by providing a perfect cross from the left for Gibbs-White. The 19-year-old arrived at speed to slam in his first goal for Wolves from close range. Adama Traoré set up the third with a storming run from the right and – all too rare from him – a good final pass from the byline. Cutrone helped it on to Vinagre for another close-range finish.
Jota and Raul Jiménez came off the bench to give a reminder of why they are Wolves’ first-choice strikers, Jiménez providing a lovely looping pass that Jota volleyed wonderfully into the net from 10 yards. “It is a pity that Wolves play Torino next because both those teams belong in the group stage,” said Pyunik’s manager, Alexander Tarkhanov, nicely setting up next week’s duel.