Warren Joyce has challenged Wigan Athletic’s fringe players to ‘springboard into the side’ and ‘make the biggest impact’ in the club’s survival bid.
The Latics boss could be without a trio of first-choice midfielders for this weekend’s visit of Bristol City, with Max Power (hamstring) definitely out, Sam Morsy suspended and Shaun MacDonald battling to overcome a knee problem.
Alex Gilbey’s recent return from a serious ankle injury has been timely, while David Perkins proved an able deputy for Power at Birmingham in midweek.
Josh Laurent also showed some nice touches off the bench at St Andrew’s, and Joyce says the door remains open for Jack Byrne - a January signing from Manchester City - who has been working behind-the-scenes on his fitness.
“Jack’s not that far away,” Joyce told the Wigan Post.
“If you look at his talent, he’s an unbelievable passer of the ball.
“I love watching him in the training games - his touch and awareness is different class.
“It’s just he hasn’t really played football for six months, before that he was away in Holland, so he’s had quite a long break.
“He’s been working his socks off behind the scenes to get up to speed.
“I spoke to all of the players who’ve been out of the side on Thursday, and told them I was looking for someone from that group to springboard into the side, with a freshness, and they could be the ones who make the biggest impact in what we want to achieve.
“They’ll get opportunities, and they’ve got to be ready to take them when they crop up.”
Winger Ryan Colclough - who spent the first half of the campaign on loan at MK Dons - is also close to a recall.
However, Joyce has lifted the lid on exactly why it’s taken over two months for the ex-Crewe flyer to work his way back into the fold.
“I thought Ryan’s fitness levels were a joke really when he came back from his loan spell over Christmas,” admitted Joyce. “And I talked to him about that.
“He’s really knuckled down since, worked his socks off, to get back.
“He’s a young lad with a lot of talent, but he’s also naive tactically really.
“That’s not necessarily all his fault, because if he’s not been told these things, and the demands have not been out on him, then you can’t expect him to just know it.
“He does have trickery, he does have pace, and he does have power...and he can be an asset for us.”
The case of Colclough - who was sent out by previous boss Gary Caldwell with a view to playing regular first-team football - underlines the danger of some loan arrangements.
“Obviously he was out on loan before I got to the club, so you’ve no control over that,” added Joyce.
“The problem when people go out on loan is you lose complete control over what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis, their weights programme, and the habits they have.
“When you send out a player - like we did at Manchester United - you don’t necessarily send them out to improve them by playing games.
“Playing games isn’t enough - they’re still doing development work that every player’s got to do.
“It’s more difficult doing that development work in the Championship when the games are Saturday-Tuesday.
“Ryan wasn’t really playing during his loan spell, so he had a lot of work to do when he came back.”