Chris Hughton and Birmingham City, backed by more than 5,000 travelling fans, will try to take a significant step towards Europa League glory tonight (6pm).
Blues face Club Bruges in Belgium in a pivotal Group H game that could go a long way to deciding the qualifying shake-up for the knock-out phase of the competition.
Bruges pulled off a surprise 2-1 win at SC Braga in the last round of matches on the night Blues recorded a famous come-from-behind victory over NK Maribor in Slovenia.
Bruges top the group, so a draw or win for Blues, with the return at St Andrew’s on November 3, would be huge.
“When the group was first determined, I think Braga were the favourites because of what they achieved last season,” said Hughton.
“But Bruges have a great European history. They are used to playing in Europe because of the Belgian league.
“And if anything, their win at Braga probably edges them as group favourites now. It will be a tough game.”
Bruges are undefeated this season and sit third in the Pro League.
But they lost their captain and leader Carl Hoefkens to a cruciate knee ligament injury towards the end of Sunday’s 2-0 win over Gent.
Blues headed for Belgium with pretty much a full squad, although Hughton cautioned that several players were being monitored after picking up niggles last weekend and might not be risked.
Bruges prefer a 4-3-3 formation and Hughton said it was not something that they should lose sleep about.
“It’s a system we have played against before. We can always talk about systems, but it’s how we apply ourselves to the way the opposition play. We have experienced that before, at Nacional and Maribor.
“We know that on the road, certainly of late, we have been able to cope.”
“We have more continuity in the team now, players back from injury, players who have played in a series of games,” he added.
Hughton threw down the gauntlet to the talented Jean Beausejour ahead of Leicester City’s visit.
He urged the Chilean star to be more of a threat, and get among the goals.
Beausejour has been a major success in the Europa League for Blues due to his ability on the ball, and not to get knocked off it, and the ease with which he can beat an opponent.
“Interestingly we spoke about Jean, with that ability he has got, giving the team that little bit more in the final third and he pops up with a shot against the crossbar and a run to get the penalty against Leicester. That’s what we need from him.
“That moment, his shot, lifted the crowd, and we went on from there.”
Curtis Davies and Jordon Mutch did not travel to the continent and Hughton said Davies was making excellent progress after a knee/calf injury and could be available for Sunday’s Championship match at Bristol City.
Mutch is recovering from a broken ankle and it is expected he will be fit around the end of November.
Darren Carter, meanwhile, has returned to Wast Hills after a short trial with Brighton came to nothing.
‘‘He’s back with us,” confirmed Hughton. “Nothing has happened on that one. He’s a great lad, very popular round here and we are certainly giving him the opportunity to train, and we’re continuing to have a look at him.”