By Tony Leighton
Wigan Athletic may have dropped down from the Premier League, but after winning the FA Cup in May for the first time in the Sky Bet Championship club's history the Latics are now set for their maiden foray into Europe.
Following Saturday's trip to Leicester City for their sixth league match of the season, Owen Coyle's team fly out to Belgium to face Waregem next Thursday in the opening game of a Europa League campaign that will also see them face Slovenian side NK Maribor and Russian outfit Rubin in group fixtures.
It's a prospect that is whetting the appetite of manager Coyle, who took over from the departed Roberto Martinez in the summer and has put together a squad that he feels will handle the difficulties of battling on home and foreign fronts.
Coyle, who four years ago led Burnley to the Premier League at the end of a season in which the Clarets played no less than 61 League and Cup matches, knows what a slog the Latics are in for if they are to have a successful campaign.
But the 47-year-old manager told football-league.co.uk: "These are exciting times for the club and and we'll relish every game. It's going to be frantic at times - for example we've now got four games in three different competitions in 10 days.
"In an ideal scenario, if you're trying to get out of the Championship into the Premier League, you want a level playing field. But on Sunday week, when we play Ipswich, we'll be two games behind everybody else in the league.
"Does that make it difficult for the manager? Absolutely, of course it does, because you don't want to be playing catch-up. Ask any manager and he'll tell you he would rather have points in the bag than games in hand.
"But there's no point in fretting about it. We just have to understand the psyche of the situation. I've said to the players that it's important we make sure that among that group of games we can re-claim the [Championship] points.
"There's no getting away from it, it's a huge challenge. But we've built a squad that can cope with the demands. We've got two players for every position and good competition for places, so if someone comes out - through injury, lack of form or suspension - we've got players who can step in.
"We've brought some terrific players into the club. People don't come in and automatically fall into place, but they're gelling together and the spirit is great - in our last three games we've come back to claim points, so there's no doubt that as well as quality we've got the heart and spirit for the fight."
Coming back to claim points means that after their first five Championship matches Wigan have eight points, two fewer than Leicester as they prepare to face Nigel Pearson's team at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.
Coyle said: "Leicester were unfortunate not to get promoted last season and they'll be up there again this time. They've started the season well and they've got aspirations of finishing at the top end of the table, so it will be a tough game - but if play to our standards we can go toe-to-toe with anybody."
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