Morale boost needed

Posted by Ned Brown

Christopher Lee/Getty ImagesWigan would greatly welcome the return of defender Antolin Alcaraz, who hasn't played for the Latics since August.

While it is likely the Wigan XI to face Macclesfield in Saturday's FA Cup away match will be comprised largely by fringe players, the need for an injection of belief and positivity is as great as it has been since this time last year.

Many supporters were rightly optimistic going into the season, but a myriad of circumstances has conspired to see Latics slump into the all-too-familiar bottom three this January. The common thread has been poor defending -- no surprise given the unprecedented number of recent injuries to senior defenders. If any of the senior players start tomorrow, they are likely to be defenders, and a clean sheet should be a big priority.

Elsewhere, Angelo Henriquez will likely feature following his debut league goal against Sunderland last weekend. Mauro Boselli has a very good Cup record and should partner him, although Callum McManaman will be pushing them for a starting berth. David Jones, Fraser Fyvie and Roger Espinoza will be favourites in midfield -- the latter, so energetic against Sunderland, will benefit from the minutes as he adapts to Roberto Martinez's tactical setup.

New loan signing Joel Robles is also likely to make an appearance. Of the club's loan signings, he looks the most likely to potentially sign on full-time if his time loan stint is a success. The Spaniard immediately endeared himself to the Wigan faithful with a video in which he expressed his delight at the move. Latics' supporters responded in kind with a barrage of welcoming tweets and a Welcome to Wigan YouTube video that you can see here. Big potential, by the looks of it.

The optimists among us will be hoping for the reappearance of Antolin Alcaraz -- whose importance can only be measured by the defensive struggles his teammates have endured without him. His injury in the previous season also coincided with the team's long losing run, while his return to form alongside Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa was the foundation of their resurgence. Ryo Miyaichi, also injured for several months, would be a welcome sight as well.

Meanwhile, the transfer window rumours continue. Sources are rarely reliable at this time of year, but the most exciting possibility is certainly Aidan McGeady of Spartak Moscow. The Russian club has apparently rejected a loan, instead asking for something in the region of 5 million pounds. He would certainly add that little bit of pace and trickery that has been lacking. As excellent as he has been, Shaun Maloney can't do it all.

More pressing is the need for a defender, with Craig Dawson, Danny Simpson, John Stones, Sebastian Coates and Ronald Zubar getting mentions in the papers. While none are established, experienced centre-backs, they all sound useful in their own ways -- if a right back such as Simpson, Stones or Zubar were to come in, it would allow Emmerson Boyce to drop into that centre-back role more permanently. It would also signal the end of the road for Ronnie Stam, whose defending continues to let him - and Boyce, who has to cover for him - down.

It is no coincidence that Latics have been historically poor in January. Not only does the congested festive period drain the thinner squads in the league, the transfer window is a huge distraction for players at a selling club. Ironically, the team's poor results of late have helped keep the spotlight away from their major talents, so no one is likely to leave. Maloney, the team's best performer, just signed a new contract and Martinez will be hoping others follow suit.

ESPN Conversations