WIGAN’S recent resurgence was halted in West London as Fulham deservedly took the spoils.
Latics had arrived at Craven Cottage in good spirits after back-to-back victories over Manchester United and Arsenal.
They even managed to take the lead through Emmerson Boyce’s first goal of the season, at the beginning of the second half.
But after that it was all Fulham, who equalised within a minute through Pavel Pogrebnyak and spent the remainder of the match seeking a winner.
Pogrebnyak hit both the crossbar and the post, before the goal finally arrived two minutes from time.
John Arne Riise’s free-kick caused the damage and Philippe Senderos planted a header firmly past Ali Al Habsi.
The result leaves Latics on 34 points but now just three points clear of the drop zone, with clashes against Newcastle (h), Blackburn (a) and Wolves (h) to come.
Roberto Martinez had named an unchanged side for the game, although Shaun Maloney was able to return to the bench after a knee problem.
And the visitors kicked off with all the confidence of a side who’d won four of their last five matches and could go a long way towards securing safety with another three points.
Jordi Gomez volleyed high and wide with Wigan’s first sight of goal, before the Cottagers flexed their attacking muscles.
Man-of-the-moment Clint Dempsey wriggled free down the left and toed the ball past Gary Caldwell before taking a tumble on the edge of the area.
There was a worrying moment when Lee Mason ran towards the incident and appeared to point to the penalty spot, before it became apparent he’d awarded only a goal-kick.
Riise then won a free-kick in almost identical position off Boyce, and Danny Murphy fooled everyone by laying the set-piece across goal towards the penalty spot.
Damien Duff was totally unmarked as he pulled back his left foot, but the shot was high and wide.
Mousa Dembele then saw the ball fall to him just inside the area, but Caldwell was on him in a flash to block the shot.
Latics were enjoying a foothold in the game without really threatening their opponents’ goal, and the increasing influence of Dempsey in dangerous areas was becoming a concern.
The cause wasn’t helped when Franco di Santo was forced to limp off on the half-hour mark, Conor Sammon coming on in his place.
But it did little to stem the flow of home pressure, with Dempsey forcing Al Habsi into his first meaningful touch to cut out a cross bound for Pogrebnyak.
Latics were stopped in their tracks as half-time approached when James McCarthy was taken out off the ball by Danny Murphy, the official awarded the visitors a free-kick when they’d probably have preferred the advantage.
But Wigan were looking better at this point, and Schwarzer was twice called into the action to keep his side on level terms.
First Victor Moses cut in from the left only to curl his shot straight at the goalkeeper.
Then Gomez sent Riise this way and that before trying to sneak his shot in at the near post, Schwarzer again up to the pressure.
Latics continued to push at the start of the second period, and they came close to the opening goal within five minutes of the restart.
Jean Beausejour lofted over a free-kick from the left, Antolin Alcaraz headed it back and the ball fell to Gomez inside the six-yard box.
The Spaniard swivelled and fired in his shot, but it found the side-netting rather than the top corner.
At the other end, a rare Fulham attack was ended when Pogrebnyak was upended by Caldwell at the expense of the game’s yellow card.
But Latics were nearly in again when Maynor Figueroa started an attack from deep and continued his run, collecting it back after Moses had missed his kick.
The Honduran, who had just received treatment after taking a boot from Dembele right in the face, had a clear sight of goal, but fluffed his lines and the ball flew harmlessly wide.
Latics made their second change 10 minutes into the second period, Maloney taking over from Gomez - and the switch paid immediate dividends.
Boyce it was who started the move, playing the ball into Sammon and continuing his run towards the edge of the area.
The ball found its way back to the feet of the wing-back, who lashed it in to the bottom corner before Schwarzer could even move.
Martinez would have been trying to get the message on to keep it tight and hold on for a few minutes as the home side tried to get back in to the game.
As it happened, the lead lasted barely a minute.
Pogrebnyak received the ball 25 yards from goal, switched it on to his left foot, and found the left-hand corner past a stranded Al Habsi.
The goal would have knocked the stuffing out of the visitors, and it was nearly much worse a couple of minutes later.
Riise engineered a yard from himself down the left, and his cross was stabbed towards goal by Pogrebnyak.
The ball hit the underside of the bar before bouncing down on to the line and away from goal, with the home side claiming the ball had crossed the line.
Regardless of the let-off, Latics were hanging on for dear life and were counting their lucky stars again midway through the half.
Duff’s cross from the right was a beauty and was met powerfully by the head of Pogrebnyak, only for Al Habsi to divert it over the bar with his fingertips.
It wouldn’t have counted, though, the official spotting a clear foul by Pogrebnyak on Alcaraz as the ball came towards him, but it was another warning for Wigan.
Martinez made his final move with 15 minutes remaining, withdrawing James McArthur and sending on Ben Watson.
But still it was Fulham in the ascendancy, and they hit the woodwork again on 78 minutes later.
Dempsey’s shot from the left was only parried by Al Habsi into the path of Pogrebnyak, on his own by the penalty spot.
The connection wasn’t great but it looped towards an empty net past Figueroa, who’d given it up.
When they needed a break, though, Latics finally got one after a season full of misfortune as the ball struck the post and spun away from goal.
Duff was on to it in a flash, but Figueroa was back to get it away.
Sadly, the respite was only temporary, and moments later Duff again at the ball at his feet inside the Wigan box.
His cross was sliced clear by Caldwell into the body of Senderos, the ball deflecting off the Swiss defender and flying a couple of inches wide of the post.
It looked like Latics were going to ride their luck all the way to the end, but the goal that had been coming for so long finally arrived with two minutes remaining.
Boyce gave away an unnecessary free-kick down the Wigan right, allowing Riise the chance to swing in one last cross with his left foot.
The delivery was nice, and Senderos planted a header past the despairing right hand of Al Habsi for a deserved winning goal.
Latics: Al Habsi 7; Alcaraz 8, Caldwell 8, Figueroa 8; Boyce 7, McArthur 7, McCarthy 7, Beausejour 7; Moses 6, Gomez 6; Di Santo 6.
Subs: Pollitt, Gohouri, Watson (for McArthur, 76), Jones, Diame, Maloney (for Gomez, 56) 7, Sammon (for Di Santo, 31) 7.
Fulham: Schwarzer; Hughes, Senderos, Hangeland, Riise; Duff, Diarra, Murphy, Dembele; Dempsey, Pogrebnyak.
Subs: Stockdale, Baird, Johnson, Kasami, Etuhu, Frei (for Murphy, 82), Briggs.