Wigan Athletic begin their first European football campaign when they travel to Zulte Waregem in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday.
The English side secured their place in the competition with an unlikely victory in the FA Cup last season, when a Ben Watson header in the dying stages secured a 1-0 final win over Manchester City at Wembley in May.
That elation was soon met with disappointment when their eight-year stint in the Premier League ended in relegation a matter of days later.
Since then, the Lancashire outfit have had a change in management, with Owen Coyle replacing Roberto Martinez following the Spaniard’s departure to Everton.
The former Bolton Wanderers and Burnley manager was one of the busier managers in the transfer window, adding the likes of goalkeeper Scott Carson, striker Grant Holt and midfielders Nick Powell and James McClean to bolster his squad.
Wigan, though, have had an inauspicious start to their Championship campaign, winning just two of their opening six fixtures.
Coyle’s men = head into Thursday’s fixture at the Jan Breydelstadion on the back of a 2-0 loss to Leicester City, and will be without first-team regulars Holt and centre-backs Gary Caldwell and Ivan Ramis.
Defender James Perch – who joined from Newcastle United in the transfer window – has European experience and is eagerly anticipating the Group D opener.
“It’ll be a massive game for us all on Thursday – the players, the management and the fans. Hopefully we can go there and get the three points to get the campaign off to a flying start,” he told Wigan Today.
“I’ve played in the Europa League so I’ll know a little bit what to expect in terms of refereeing, the opposition crowds and so on.
“The players are a lot more technical on the continent, which we’ll have to get to grips with, and I found it an interesting challenge.”
Belgium side Zulte Waregem finished last season’s domestic campaign in second position, earning a place in the UEFA Champions League only to be knocked out in the third qualifying round by PSV Eindhoven.
Zulte’s European adventure continues in the Europa League, however, and they ensured their participation in the group stages with a 3-2 aggregate victory over Cypriot side APOEL in the play-off round.
They occupy fifth spot in Belgium’s Pro League, having won four of their opening seven matches.
However, they head into the encounter on the back of a heavy 5-2 defeat away to Genk on Sunday and Francky Dury’s side will be keen for a quick response.
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