UWE Rosler admits “the season starts now” after Wigan Athletic concluded their 46-match Championship campaign with an entertaining 4-3 defeat at Blackburn.
Latics had already secured their spot in the top six with a game to spare, and it showed as - with a much-changed side - they weren’t at their usual levels across the park.
The visitors were never out of the game at Ewood Park, but former England goalkeeper Paul Robinson tipped Shaun Maloney’s late header over the bar to ensure Rovers edged a tasty Lancashire hotpot.
But the real action gets underway this Friday, when Latics entertain QPR in the first-leg of the play-offs at the DW Stadium, ahead of Monday’s return at Loftus Road.
And Rosler, who has guided Latics from 15th to fifth spot in the table during his six months in charge, knows the biggest test of his side is still to come.
“From day one, I said that every team that gets into the play-offs deserves to get there over the course of 46 games,” Rosler told the Evening Post.
“And after 60 games in total, our season effectively starts now - which is an unusual situation.
“This is what we have worked towards since December, and we are now in a position where we can go through the play-offs to the Premier League.
“This is the scenario we have worked for, and now we must take the best out of it.
“We have managed the squad well, and more or less everybody is in contention to play.
“That’s a very good situation to be in.”
QPR were most experts’ pre-season favourites for promotion and, although Harry Redknapp’s side have struggled for consistency, they took four points off Latics during the regular season.
That said, Rosler feels the big-game experience in his own side - gained from a Europa League campaign, numerous Premier League survival battles and a couple of memorable FA Cup runs - will stand Latics in good stead.
“We have a squad of players who know all about the drama of last-day survival as well as big games at Wembley, and I think that can only be a positive for us,” he added.
“But QPR have a lot of Premier League experience, and a team who can raise their level on the big occasion.
“For me, it was important we take some momentum from the Blackburn game into Monday’s training, with a positive frame of mind and everybody focused on getting the result we need on Friday - and we did that.
“And with the extra day’s preparation for the Friday game as opposed to Thursday, I think that can only be good for us.”
Brighton sneaked the sixth and final play-off spot over Reading on account of Leo Ulloa’s injury-time winner at Nottingham Forest.
The Seagulls will now face third-placed Derby over two legs, the first of which will be at the Amex Stadium this Thursday, with the return at the iPro Stadium on Sunday.