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JAMES McCarthy says Wigan’s six remaining home matches will be ‘pivotal’ to their hopes of avoiding the drop to the Championship.

The Republic of Ireland international returned from a three-month lay-off against Aston Villa on Tuesday, but his performance – and late goal – wasn’t enough to prevent Latics crashing to a 2-1 defeat.

Wigan have now won only one match in the last 11 ahead of a vital Premier League trip to fellow strugglers West Brom next Tuesday night.

But the 20-year-old is targeting the forthcoming visits of Blackburn, Manchester United, Birmingham, Tottenham, Everton and West Ham as opportunities to harvest enough points to get out of trouble.

McCarthy told the Evening Post: “There are still a lot of home games still to go which are going to be pivotal, Blackburn being the next one (on Saturday week).

“We’re all disappointed with the result on Tuesday, but we’ll stick together as a group.

“I thought it was a great performance despite the points going to Villa, and we need to pick ourselves up as quickly as possible.

“We’ve got a big derby match coming up at Bolton in the FA Cup and then an even bigger match-up against West Brom next week – and we need to continue to keep our spirits up and working hard.”

McCarthy’s display was probably the biggest plus for Roberto Martinez on Tuesday night, the former Hamilton man looking like he’d never been away and establishing a solid central midfield partnership with ex-Accies team-mate James McArthur.

“To be honest it felt great to get a run-out and start the game, even scoring a goal,” he added.

“But it counts for nothing in truth. The most important thing was to get three points, which we didn’t, and it’s very disappointing.

“After getting a goal back we had a real go at it, and the gaffer was happy with the response after it.

“I felt some of our play was magnificent, but on the night it just wasn’t to be.”

McCarthy also admitted he was helped back into the swing by the presence of close pal McArthur in a new-look Latics engine room, with both youngsters setting down a solid marker for the rest of the campaign.

“James gives you that bit of dig in the midfield along with Hendry (Thomas), and between the three of us I think we created some good chances in the first half,” he remarked.

“But we just couldn’t get the goal we needed. Then a few minutes after the break, they go up the other end of the pitch and scored, which knocked the stuffing out of us.

“The end product just wasn’t there, but you have nights like that sometimes and we had one against Villa.

“We had plenty of chances and possession in the first-half which made it even more disappointing to go behind and lose the game.”