JASON Pearce tossed Wigan Athletic a lifeline on Pancake Day with a debut goal to secure a vital victory at Reading.
Latics deservedly recorded only their second three points under Malky Mackay after a remarkable backs-to-the-wall effort.
Mackay’s men even had to withstand an agonising 11 minutes of stoppage-time, thanks partly to the injury sustained by Chris Herd at the beginning of the second period that saw him stretchered off.
But they held firm and closed the gap to Championship safety to six points with 15 matches remaining.
That buffer could be reduced further on Friday night with Latics in action before all their relegation rivals as they entertain Charlton.
If they show the same passion, desire, heart and character they did at the Madejski, they will give themselves every chance of doing so.
The decisive goal was scored as early as the 17th minute, Pearce bundling home from eight yards after the home side couldn’t clear Sheyi Ojo’s corner.
And Latics dug deep in and refused to buckle, with the entire back four - protected by Herd and William Kvist - absolutely magnificent in front of Ali Al Habsi.
McClean was again his usual tireless at the other end, running his blood to water and giving Latics a constant threat down the left.
Latics: Al Habsi; Perch, Pearce, Maguire, Taylor; Ojo, Herd, Kvist, McClean; Fortune, Clarke.
Subs: Carson, Bong, Kim (for Herd, 53), Mckay (for Fortune, 81), Waghorn (for Ojo, 73), Flores, Robles.
Reading: Federici; Kelly, Chalobah, Pearce, Obita; McCleary, Williams, Norwood, Robson-Kanu; Pogrebnyak,
Subs: Akpan (for Williams, 83), Mackie, Yakubu (for Cox, 66), Blackman (for Robson-Kanu, 66), Travner, Andersen, Cooper.
Star Man: Jason Pearce