TWO goals in the last six minutes from Everton’s supersubs saw Latics crash to a third demoralising defeat in a week.
While there were extenuating circumstances behind the reversals at Manchester City and Crystal Palace, Wigan’s latest loss had no such mitigation.
The Toffees were definitely there for the taking after a disappointing start to the season, and the mood among the home supporters wasn’t helped when Latics took the lead on the half-hour mark through Franco di Santo’s third goal in his last three games.
However, the lead lasted barely 97 seconds before Tim Cahill headed against the bar and Phil Jagielka followed in to force the ball home.
With both teams pushing for a winner, David Moyes threw on substitutes Denis Stracqualursi, Apostolos Vellios and Royston Drenthe, and saw Vellios and Drenthe reward him with late strikes that secured the points.
And Wigan’s afternoon was summed up when star striker Hugo Rodallega was stretchered off in injury time with what appeared to be a serious knee injury.
Roberto Martinez had sprung a surprise pre-match with his team selection, handing Patrick van Aanholt a debut at left-back, meaning Maynor Figueroa switching to centre-back and a rare start at right-back for Adrian Lopez.
There was also a recall in midfield for James McCarthy, with James McArthur dropping to the bench alongside new signings Shaun Maloney and Albert Crusat.
Ali Al Habsi was Wigan’s star man in the 0-0 draw in this fixture last term, and the Oman No.1 was quickly called into action, tipping a Seamus Coleman header round the post for a corner.
Wigan’s first sight of goal resulted in Di Santo squandering a potential two-on-one opening, ignoring the unmarked Rodallega and electing to shoot from 30 yards, an effort which flew well wide of Tom Howard’s goal.
Gary Caldwell did well to crowd out Cahill after good work by Leighton Baines, the Scot then blocking a shot from Marouane Fellaini as Everton upped the ante.
Victor Moses came close to opening the scoring just before the half-hour mark, Tony Hibbert sliding in to deny him after the winger had deceived Silvain Distin.
But the respite was only temporary, with Latics taking the lead from the resulting corner.
The ball was played short by Ben Watson to Di Santo, who turned Leon Osman before firing in a shot that took a slight deflection past Howard.
Martinez will have known how important it was for Wigan to consolidate their advantage until at least the half-time whistle.
But Everton refused to lie down and drew level with their very next attack, Jagielka applying the finishing touch after Cahill’s header had hit the woodwork.
Wigan started the second half on top and could have won a penalty when Baines jumped in on Moses, who rode the challenge when others would surely have gone down.
Unfortunately for Latics, Moses’ honesty didn’t pay off as the home defence were able to clear his cutback.
With both sides looking for a winner, Di Santo was fouled on the edge of the area, only for Rodallega to send the free-kick high over the bar.
At the other end, Everton themselves won a dead-ball situation when Cahill was smothered by Caldwell, with Baines also finding the crowd behind the goal rather than the top corner.
Vellios, on for Coleman, then squandered a great opportunity to play in Osman with the Wigan defence stretched, but the youngster made no mistake moments later when he got his head to a Hibbert cross and planted a header beyond Al Habsi into the bottom corner.
Incredibly, Latics almost repeated Everton’s trick from the first half and pulled themselves level with seconds, when substitute David Jones broke and hit the bar with a dipping volley.
From the follow-up, Moses saw his shot blocked by Hibbert, the ball being cleared downfield.
Wigan’s afternoon went from bad to worse when Rodallega came off second best in a crunching collision with Stracqualursi and was stretchered off after lengthy treatment.
And their misery was compounded deep into stoppage-time when Howard launched a long ball forward, and the ball was flicked on for Drenthe to finish coolly past Al Habsi.
Latics: Al Habsi; Lopez, Caldwell, Figueroa, Van Aanholt; Moses, McCarthy, Watson, Gomez, Rodallega; Di Santo. Subs: Pollitt, Thomas, Crusat, Jones (for Gomez, 71), McArthur, Sammon, Maloney (for Rodallega, 90).
Everton: Howard; Hibbert, Jagielka, Diston, Baines; Coleman, Fellaini, Rodwell, Bilyaletdinov, Osman; Cahill. Subs: Mucha, Heitinga, Drenthe (for Bilyaletdinov, 58), Neville, Barkley, Stracqualursi (for Cahill, 83), Vellios (for Coleman, 66).
Shots on target: WA4 E10
Shots off target: WA5 E7
Corners: WA9 E4
In the book:
Latics: Yellow: Caldwell. Red: None.
Everton: Yellow: Fellaini, Vellios. Red: None.
Referee: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire)
Star Man - PATRICK VAN AANHOLT - Fine debut from the on-loan Chelsea man, solid at the back and almost scored a cracking goal in the second half.
Martinez’s verdict: ‘We knew we’d have to deal with crosses and set plays, but Everton will feel they scored two easy goals’
Moyes’ verdict: ‘All I was thinking about today was the three points. I think we deserved it but we can play better’
Paul Kendrick’s verdict: Latics failed to build on taking the lead, letting Everton back in and coming away from a winnable game with nothing.