A LAST-GASP winner from man-of-the-match Charles N’Zogbia gave Latics a Premier League lifeline – and condemned the Hammers to the drop.
All had looked lost when a brace from Demba Ba gave West Ham a 2-0 interval lead, on a must-win afternoon for both clubs. But a double substitution from Roberto Martinez at the break – with Conor Sammon and Victor Moses joining the fray – inspired a quite remarkable second-half turnaround.
First, N’Zogbia reduced the arrears with a stunning free-kick just before the hour mark, before Sammon poached his first Premier League goal midway through the second period with a cool finish.
Then, with 25 seconds remaining of the four added minutes, N’Zogbia slotted past Rob Green to send the DW Stadium into raptures.
It means that, barring a mathematical miracle, three points at Stoke next weekend will extend Wigan’s top-flight stay into a seventh season – something Martinez would have gleefully accepted before the game.
The Wigan boss had made one change to the side that drew at Aston Villa, Momo Diame returning after a groin injury to replace Moses.
After much pre-match speculation, Scott Parker was only named on the Hammers’ bench, alongside Freddie Sears, Robbie Keane and England internationals Matthew Upson and Carlton Cole.
A bumper crowd of over 22,000 gave both sets of players a rousing reception, and Latics almost made the perfect start with a goal inside the first minute.
Diame played the ball out to Tom Cleverley, whose shot appeared to strike the hand of Jordan Spence before deflecting towards the top corner.
With referee Mike Dean waving away penalty appeals, Green flew across his goal to tip the ball round the post for a corner.
The set-piece was wasted by Ben Watson, but Latics threatened again a minute later when Diame cut inside from the left and unleashed a right-foot shot that was only just too high.
As news of Fulham taking the lead at Birmingham reverberated around the stadium, the Hammers scored a goal of their own to really put the cat among the pigeons.
Latics dodged a bullet when Gary Caldwell got in the way of a blockbusting effort from Jack Collison, but they were not so fortunate when the ball rebounded back to Thomas Hitzlsperger.
The cross was inch-perfect and Ba, unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box, couldn’t fail to nod past Ali Al Habsi.
The goal rocked Latics, who took a few minutes to settle themselves as the visitors noticeably grew in confidence.
Latics threatened again just before the midway point of the half, when James Tomkins had to clear a dangerous cross from Emmerson Boyce that was aimed at Hugo Rodallega.
But they were hit by a killer blow on 25 minutes when the Hammers added a second goal with their second attack.
A soft free-kick conceded by Watson gave West Ham a good platform, and Tomkins headed Hitzlsperger’s free-kick back across goal for Ba to finish from a yard.
Doom and gloom had quickly replaced the early optimism in the DW, but Latics came close to an instant reply within two minutes.
Antolin Alcaraz found the ball at his feet inside the six-yard box, and the Paraguayan laid the ball back to Diame.
However, instead of shooting for goal from close range, the Senegal international elected to pass inside the Boyce, but the effort was not accurate and the defence was able to clear.
West Ham were nearly in again on the half-hour mark, Frederic Piquionne’s scuffed shot being superbly cleared by Caldwell with Ba again lurking.
Despite the stakes, it was a very open game, and Latics created four several in quick succession before the interval.
First, James McCarthy played the ball into the area and, after controlling on his chest, Rodallega produced an overhead kick that forced Green into a diving save.
Caldwell then drove just wide from 30 yards, before Diame found himself one on one with Green, only to stab straight at the goalkeeper.
From the resulting corner from Watson, Rodallega found himself unmarked three yards from goal, but his header hit Green and bounced away to safety.
Latics blew another great chance to pull one back in first-half injury-time when Cleverley didn’t read a long ball from Caldwell that last man Tomkins couldn’t deal with.
It was the on-loan Manchester United’s final act, with Martinez making a double change at the interval.
Also withdrawn was McCarthy, with Moses and Sammon entering the fray to a rapturous reaction.
Sammon immediately showed what he’s all about, making a nuisance of himself and chasing down every ball that was played even near his vicinity.
Two down, Latics were having to gamble and frequently left themselves one-on-one and two-on-two at the back, as they desperately looked for the goal that would give them hope.
And it paid dividends 12 minutes into the second period with a goal from their liveliest player.
N’Zogbia won his side a free-kick 20 yards from goal with a determined chase that brought about a foul from Tomkins.
The Frenchman picked himself up and smashed an unstoppable strike past Green that nearly tore a hole in the roof of the net.
West Ham responded by sending Parker on for Jonathan Spector, but Latics retained the impetus and pushed forward for the equaliser.
Rodallega had a couple of shots that flew off target, before the Hammers had a chance to kill it off when Ba strode through the middle and pulled back his left foot.
However, out of nowhere, Alcaraz came across to put the challenge in and force Ba into a weak effort that Al Habsi easily saved
Alcaraz had undoubtedly got his side out of jail, and Latics took full advantage with a second goal midway through the second stanza. The referee played a great advantage after Rodallega was felled by Tomkins, allowing Watson to feed Sammon. The Dubliner beat his marker with aplomb, before slotting past Green into the far corner to the delight of the Wigan faithful.
It was all Wigan by this stage, and N’Zogbia had another chance from a free-kick 25 yards from goal, only to this time fire it high over Green’s crossbar.
With Latics pushing for a winner, they were inevitably going to leave holes at the back, and they were indebted to Maynor Figueroa and Caldwell for outstanding blocks when West Ham players looked to be in the act of scoring.
It looked like another of those afternoons when Watson strode through and struck a cracking shot that beat Green only to come back off the post and into the grateful arms of the goalkeeper in the last minute.
But there was to be one final twist – N’Zogbia repeating last season’s dramatic winner against Arsenal to score another, arguably even more important, goal.