OWEN Coyle wants Jordi Gomez to be Wigan Athletic’s go-to-man as they prepare for their first-ever home European fixture.
Latics entertain Slovenian outfit Maribor tonight looking to build on a creditable 0-0 draw away to Zulte Waregem last month.
Although Latics would have been pleased with a point on the road, there will be far more onus on them to attack tonight as the home team.
And Coyle believes Gomez is in the right kind of form to be able to do some serious damage.
“I think Jordi was outstanding on Saturday, and I’ve told him I don’t ever want him falling below that,” Coyle acknowledged.
“There’s no doubt he can open up defences. What players of his type need is the other places to find space so they can receive the pass.
“We have two or three players of that ilk who can get on the ball, and it means we’ll have a very positive outlook.
“Jordi’s always been a player I’ve admired from afar, but when you get to working with a player on a daily basis you see a different side to them.
“You see how hard they work to be at their best and represent themselves, and Jordi epitomises that.
I’ve had to leave him out a couple of times this year, but only because of the workload.
“It’s been me putting the reins on him too - he was desperate to play in all of the games.
“And I love that in a player. It’s a fantastic quality, and one you don’t want to ever lose.”
At 28, Gomez is one of Wigan’s longest-serving players, and the former Espanyol man is relishing the chance to prove himself on the European stage.
“Having been here for five seasons now, it’s nice for me to be playing for Wigan in European football,” Gomez said.
“We won the FA Cup last year to give us this honour, and it’s one we are determined to enjoy.
“There are a few of the lads who have played in Europe for other clubs before and that will hopefully be a big factor on the night.
“We want to make the fans happy with a performance they can be proud of.
“It’s our first European game in Wigan, and I’m sure the fans are excited as the players.”
Tonight’s game is Wigan’s sixth in the space of just 19 days as they chase targets both home and abroad.
While the priority remains the Championship, Coyle says he’ll be doing all he can to steer Latics through to the next phase.
“We’ve only had one game but I have to say I love the competition,” the Wigan boss recognised.
“I love the freshness, I love the energy and I love the fact it is a European competition and it’s a chance to put Wigan Athletic on the map. I’ve told the players and they understand - I want to qualify from this group.
“Of course our priority is to get back into the Premier League, no question about that. But I feel we are good enough to qualify for the knockout stage and we’ll be going all-out to do that.”
Maribor come into the game on the back of a 5-2 defeat at home to Rubin Kazaz, that put them bottom of the group after matchday one.
Coyle, however, will be affording tonight’s visitors with every respect.
“I wouldn’t read too much into the scoreline from the first game,” he warned.
“They were 3-2 down late on and pushing everyone forward, and actually looked like they would get a result themselves, before being caught on the break twice.
“In fact, I’ve watched Maribor extensively, all of their recent matches, and I’ve been very impressed.
“Yes they have a new coach, but it’s someone who’s been assistant manager so there won’t be any massive change in their play.
“They’ve had a couple of disappointing results by their standards, but this is a team that has won their league consistently over the years.
“In the final Champions League qualifier, they narrowly lost to Viktoria Plzen who are now in Manchester City’s group. We’re under no illusions it will be a difficult task, but we know all about how they play and we’ll be ready for them.
“It’s a massive game for us, in terms of the dynamics of the group. Given Maribor’s first result it’s a big chance for us to create a little gap between us and them.
“Because they have a fantastic European pedigree, they’ll provide very tough opposition, we know that.”