A historic first ever Europa League game will take place on Thursday night as Slovenian league leaders NK Maribor visit the DW Stadium. Latics take on Maribor in strange circumstances as they have recently sacked their coach Ante Čačić less than four months into his tenure following a run of just one win from their last six matches.
Maribor have hired Ante Šimundža as their new coach, with the 42-year-old leaving NK Aluminij to return to the club he played over 200 games for as a striker. The new manager will be hoping to make an instant impact in his first game in charge.
Maribor have reached the group stage of a major UEFA competition for the fourth time but have yet to make it to the knockout stages. They lost 5-2 at home to Rubin Kazan in their first group game but were regarded as a little unlucky to lose so heavily.
Although they have not won in five European games, they made it through to this season’s Champions League third qualifying round on away goals following two draws with APOEL FC (Cyprus), before losing home and away to FC Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic) in the play-offs.
Maribor do not have a good record against English sides having W0 D1 L3. Birmingham City narrowly defeated Maribor 1-0 & 2-1 in the 2011/12 Europa Cup and Wigan’s Jean Beausejour played in both matches.
Maribor’s most recent league game was a 2-1 defeat away to Koper who are third in the Slovene First League. But Latics also go into the game with indifferent form after losing 1-0 at Watford in the Championship on Saturday.
Owen Coyle is likely to change his line up from Saturday, but his attacking options are limited due to injuries to Grant Holt, Shaun Maloney and Marc-Antoine Fortune. The goal threat will therefore have to come from loanee Nick Powell and wide men Callum McManaman and James McClean
Despite the recent inconsistent performances I am going to stick my neck out and go for a narrow Latics win, but it will not be easy against a team who have European experience and will want to impress their new coach Ante Šimundža.
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