WIGAN Athletic boss Roberto Martinez expects Gary Caldwell to fill the void left by the injured Antolin Alcaraz in their battle to avoid relegation.
Alcaraz’s hamstring problem, sustained 15 minutes into Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to West Ham, is a major blow to the Latics’ survival bid.
The Paraguay international, who missed six months with a groin injury earlier in the season, is also at risk of missing the FA Cup final.
It means the return to the starting line-up of captain Caldwell, who made his first start since March 2 against the Hammers, is timely.
“It is vitally important to have Gary back with all the experience he brings and he looked sharp and ready for the end of the season,” said Martinez.
“Antolin had the scans and he has a bit of a tear in his hamstring, which is what we expected, but we got fortunate he stopped playing at the moment he did.
“We will treat him and see how quickly he will respond but it will take the best part of three weeks.
“Antolin was in a good form so the focus is to get him back before the end of the season.
“It has been one of the those seasons which, for one reason or another, we have had a difficult time with certain injuries.
“Ivan Ramis had a cruciate ligament injury, Ben Watson broke his leg and Albert Crusat bruised a tendon in his knee.
“We need to get everyone fit and ready over the next few weeks because the demands are huge.”
Midfielder Watson hopes to be able to contribute to the club’s relegation battle after missing five months with a broken leg.
The 27-year-old has not featured for the first team since sustaining the fracture in a clash with Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling on November 17.
However, he played 90 minutes for the reserves last week and insists it is now down to manager Martinez when he plays again.
“Hopefully I’m not too far away. After a long-term injury you just want to be out there,” Watson told Latics Player.
“I think now it is down to the manager whether he wants to put me in or not. Everyone is going to be needed.”
Aston Villa’s defeat to Manchester United on Monday ensured third-bottom Wigan were not cast further adrift - they trail the midlanders by three points with a match in hand.
But Martinez stressed they cannot afford to rely on other teams not performing.
“It highlights that we are in a position where we need to get points of our own, it doesn’t matter what other teams do,” he said.
“We need to concentrate and focus on ourselves. Whatever happens elsewhere we will accept and take as part of the competition.”
Wigan have sold out all their category four tickets, the cheapest-priced at £45, for next month’s FA Cup final against Manchester City.
They were available to buy from Sunday but, after returning 11,000 unsold tickets for the semi-final, the club are not yet releasing figures of how current sales are doing.