Tomorrow’s home tie with Zulte Waregem is an historic occasion.
A win for Wigan Athletic will put them into the round of 32 of the Europa League, providing Rubin Kazan do their duty by dispatching Maribor.
But a failure to win would put mounting pressure on manager Owen Coyle.
It is not the best time to play Zulte Waregem.
Despite their indifferent form in the Europa League they have moved up to second place in the Belgian Jupiler League, losing only one game in the sixteen they have played. They are unbeaten in their last six matches in all competitions.
The storm clouds were gathering at the DW Stadium on Saturday when Latics lost their unbeaten home record to Brighton.
It was a particularly frustrating afternoon, Grant Holt’s miss being the straw that broke the camel’s back for many fans. The marquee signing just was not able to put away a one-on-one chance against the keeper in the 71st minute.
The fact that Brighton broke away to the other end and scored within a minute was hard to bear, particularly as the Wigan defence casually watched as Lee Crofts headed in. That Holt was not able to put away a header from an excellent James McClean cross in the 90th minute merely rubbed it in.
Holt’s miss was not the worst we have seen this season. It was through his own efforts that he got the goal scoring opportunity, dispossessing Brighton defender Greer and getting himself into exactly the right position to score.
Holt’s second opportunity was a rarity – a cross from the wing that reached him and gave him at least an even chance to score. Latics wingers just have not done that enough this season. Holt may look clumsy and slow at times, but where has his service been?
It was refreshing to see Latics playing some good football in the first half, with their movement causing Brighton problems. It was that final touch that eluded them.
The further it went into the second half that movement got less and less. Latics started to revert to that ‘Coylesque’ approach – hopeful long balls from defence, with Holt being expected to outjump the two central defenders each of whom was taller than him.
What happened to the approach of crossing from the flanks?
There were more than just murmurings of “Coyle Out!” this time around. The Latics faithful have been more than patient, realising that Coyle had a hill to climb in rebuilding a squad that had been decimated at the end of least season. In that respect he has surpassed expectations.
It is the poor quality of football the team has produced and Coyle’s perceived loyalty to players he has brought in that has made many supporters’ blood boil. Most supporters will even tolerate a less attractive style of play providing it brings results. An early exit from the Europa League would not go down well with them.
Once again Coyle has the opportunity to shuffle his pack. Saturday’s line up is probably his first choice, but with the strong squad he has built he has players on the bench who are more than adequate replacements. But then again, on Saturday the players looked like strangers to each other at times, so bringing in another set is hardly going to help the “chemistry”.
Jean Beausejour, Stephen Crainey, Jordi Gomez, James McArthur and Thomas Rogne are due to come back into the rotation. Given the indifferent form of both of his experienced central strikers against Brighton, Coyle might be tempted to start with Nick Powell at centre forward.
Wins at Wigan and at home to Rubin Kazan will put Zulte Waregem through to the next round. Latics can therefore expect a very difficult game tomorrow night.
Much will depend on Coyle’s tactics. One hopes we will not see the woeful stuff that was served up in Kazan.
Latics fans deserve better than Route One football.
There is enough talent in this Wigan Athletic side to overcome the Belgian visitors.
Let’s hope Coyle gets it right.