Wigan Athletic Preview (A) - January 19
WEATHER PERMITTING, Sunderland head to the DW Stadium this Saturday to take on Roberto Martinez's Wigan Athletic.
With the Latics perched in 17th - outside of the drop zone on goal difference alone - and Sunderland six points and three places higher, it could prove to be an important clash in the Barclays Premier League relegation dogfight.
It's been something of a disappointing season for Wigan. After winning any number of friends for their 'tiki taka'-lite style of play and admirable approach to every game, this looked like the season the Lancastrian outfit could finally push on away from the drop zone.
Although they're not in bottom three at this point, which is in itself a rarity, the height of ambition for Martinez and Wigan supporters would surely have been higher.
One enormous loss for Martinez will be top-scorer Arouna Kone, who had headed to South Africa for the 2013 African Cup of Nations with the Ivory Coast.
With six league goals in 20 starts for his new club, the former Levante, Sevilla, PSV Eindhoven and Roda JC hitman has quickly made himself at home in England and will be a big miss so long as the Cote D'Ivoire remain in the tournament.
Stepping up to the plate with be Franco Di Santo. Far from the most prolific forward to ever grace the Premier League, the diminutive Argentine is a workaholic and has shown enormous improvement in recent seasons.
A stunning strike at Fulham in Wigan's last league game was enough to secure a point for the away side and the former Chelsea striker will be keen to prove a point by adding to his 13 goals in 108 Premier League appearances.
Behind Di Santo, former Celtic and Aston Villa winger-cum-attacking-midfielder Shaun Maloney has stepped into a crucial role at the DW Stadium in recent times.
Poached from Celtic Park for just £1m in 2011, Maloney has five goals in 33 appearances for the Latics.
Maloney had previously worked under Martin O'Neill at Celtic before the Ulsterman bought the Malaysian-born Scottish international to Villa Park.
With just 30 appearances in two seasons in the Midlands, Maloney quickly returned to the SPL giants, making 55 appearances and scoring 13 times before Martinez tempted him to another crack at English football.
Deployed behind the furthest-most forward, Maloney has thrived and provides a key link between the striker and the midfield.
Martinez lost key defender Ivan Ramis against Fulham last weekend meaning that Antonlin Alcaraz could be rushed back despite lacking 'match fitness' in the words of his manager.
Ben Watson (broken) leg and Albert Crusat (knee), Ryo Miyiachi (ankle), Mike Pollitt (hip) and Adrian Lopez (hamstring) are all out too.
Sunderland will miss Wes Brown (knee) and Lee Cattermole (knee), who suffered a recurrence of his knee problem in training on Thursday.
Defenders Carlos Cuellar and Danny Rose (both hamstring) are doubtful, meaning new signing Kader Mangane could be handed a debut.
Wigan Athletic: Al-Habsi; Boyce, Caldwell (c), Alcaraz; Beausejour, Figuero; Jones, McArthyer; McCarthy; Maloney; Di Santo.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Gardner, O'Shea (c), Bramble, Colback; Johnson, Larsson, Vaughan, McClean; Sessegon; Fletcher.
Referee: Mr A Taylor.