Wigan Athletic manager Owen Coyle expects a “special” night this evening as the DW Stadium hosts European football for the first time.
Slovenian side Maribor are the visitors as the FA Cup winners go in search of a first victory in continental competition following their goalless draw with Zulte Waregem a fortnight ago.
Maribor have never beaten an English side, but they have a lot more experience at this level than Wigan and lost out to Victoria Plzen in the final round of qualifying for the Champions League group stages.
The Slovenians lost 5-2 to Rubin Kazan in their first Europa League match and sacked manager Ante Cacic on Sunday, with Ante Simundza stepping in to take charge in time for tonight’s game.
Coyle said: “It’s the first home tie. We’ve obviously had the experience of the first European tie for the club against Zulte Waregem in Belgium, where we acquitted ourselves very well.
“And what we want to do now is achieve maximum points tomorrow night, which would put us in a nice place in terms of the standings in the group. But to do that we’re going to have to play very well because they’re a very good side. They changed their coach at the weekend so that brings one or two things that they may change.
“For us, it’s important we get to our standard and perform as we can. We’ve got good players and we’re in the process of building a very good team.
“Nothing’s altered our opinion that we’re set for a very successful and exciting season, and tomorrow night provides that as well. Hopefully it will be a special atmosphere. Coming along for the first home European tie, it will be a special night for everybody.”
Coyle has already expressed exasperation at the fixture pile-up after Wigan were forced to play three times in six days last month.
Birmingham discovered two years ago the complications of playing in the Championship and the Europa League, and Coyle spoke about the challenge to former Blues boss Chris Hughton in the summer.
But the Scot insists reaching the knockout stages, which Birmingham narrowly missed out on, is a priority alongside returning to the Premier League.
Coyle said: “Any competition you enter you want to be winning games. We as a group want to progress to the knock-out stages, and to do that we’ve got to overcome some terrifically talented opponents. The amount of games we’ve had to play has been difficult, and especially given the fact we’ve had real injury concerns. But we know moving forward we’re going to be in a very strong position.
“We’re trying to build a squad that can cope with those demands. Going into the international break, we’ve got two home games, we want to win both of them and we’ll do everything in our power to do that.”
Tottenham are also in Europa League action tonight with a Group K clash against Anzhi Makhachkala. But Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas was still preoccupied last night with Saturday’s league draw with Chelsea, labelling the FA’s decision not to ban Fernando Torres for scratching Jan Vertonghen’s face as “joke” and a “disgrace”.
Torres was captured on television scratching the face of Spurs defender Vertonghen, which left visible marks and led to the FA reviewing the incident. But as one of the match officials saw the incident, no action could be taken under FA rules.
“It’s extremely difficult to know where to start,” said Villas-Boas. “Obviously, it is almost a farcical decision. It doesn’t matter to me which player or club is involved.
“I think the FA has made a decision almost a joke. It looks incredible. We don’t want Fernando suspended because it can make them weaker, because their bench is so strong, but I think the FA has lost all opportunity to put some sense into the images everybody saw.”
Spurs opened their Europa League campaign with a 3-0 home win over Tromso.
Swansea, the other Barclays Premier League team in the Europa League, entertain St Gallen tonight. Swans manager Michael Laudrup, whose side thumped Valencia 3-0 in the first round of games, is wary of the Swiss side.
“They don’t have the big stars but they really work hard,” said Laudrup. “We are at home, we have to try and control the game, but be aware of counter-attacks and their spirit.”
Group A: Kuban Krasnodar v Valencia (5.00); Swansea v St Gallen (8.05).
Group B: Chornomorets v PSV (8.05); Ludogorets v Dinamo Zagreb (8.05).
Group C: Esbjerg v SV Red Bull Salzburg (8.05); IF Elfsborg v Standard Liege (8.05).
Group D: Rubin Kazan v Zulte-Waregem (5.00); Wigan v Maribor (8.05).
Group E: Dnipro v Fiorentina (8.05); Pacos Ferreira v Pandurii Targu-Jiu (8.05).
Group F: Apoel Nicosia v Eintracht Frankfurt (8.05); Bordeaux v Maccabi Tel-Aviv (8.05).
Group G: Genk v FC Thun (6.00); Rapid Vienna v Dynamo Kiev (6.00).
Group H: Liberec v Estoril (6.00); Sevilla v SC Freiburg (6.00).
Group I: Lyon v Guimaraes (6.00); Rijeka v Real Betis (6.00).
Group J: Legia Warsaw v Apollon Limassol (6.00); Trabzonspor v Lazio (6.00).
Group K: Anzhi Makhachkala v Spurs (5.00); Tromso v FC Sheriff (6.00).
Group L: AZ v PAOK Salonika (6.00); Shakh Karagandy v Maccabi Haifa (5.00).