OLEG Kuzmin’s strike midway through the first half sent Wigan Athletic crashing to their first defeat in the Europa League against Rubin Kazan.
Latics gave a decent account of themselves against mighty Rubin, but they failed to score on the road for a ninth game on the spin.
Again there was a hard-luck story attached, with Thomas Rogne sending a header crashing against the bar in the final quarter, and James McClean volleying inches wide moments later.
But Rubin cemented their position at the top of the group with a third win out of four, although Latics will still fancy their chances of wrapping up second spot with two winnable games to come.
Owen Coyle had left top-scorer Nick Powell on the bench for the clash, with James Perch switching to a holding midfield role and Grant Holt one of six changes to the side that beat Huddersfield at the weekend.
Holt’s two attacking wing-men were Callum McManaman and McClean, and the latter was immediately into the game down the left-hand side.
His cross was well-claimed by goalkeeper Sergei Ryzhikov, but it was a promising opening for the visitors.
Latics would have expected to spend much of the game on the back foot, and the Russians took a firm stranglehold on the game with Latics struggling to get a kick at times.
A short corner to Chris Mavinga was quickly snuffed out by the Wigan defence, and Latics really ought to have conceded from Rubin’s next attack.
Babras Natcho laid the ball on a plate for Aleksandr Ryazantsev, who somehow missed his kick at point-blank range.
McClean was almost in again for Wigan only for his cross to be cut out, while the resultant corner saw Rogne have a shot headed away.
But Rubin were soon back in charge and opened the scoring midway through the first period.
A crisp pass from Natcho found Kuzmin totally unmarked, and he smashed past Nicholls in emphatic style from close range.
Wigan’s cause wasn’t helped when Perch picked up a soft booking for a nothing foul in centre-field.
And the visitors were indebted to Rogne when he got in the way of a rocket from Dmitri Torbinski that would have taken some keeping out.
Latics had a quiet appeal for a penalty turned down when Espinoza fell in the box, before Holt headed straight at Ryzhikov right on half-time.
While disappointed to be trailing, Latics would have felt they had acquitted themselves reasonably well so far.
A long throw-in by Ryan Shotton threatened to cause a problem for Rubin at the start of the second half, before the home side regained control.
Ruslan Mukhametshin nearly wriggled clear down the left before he was crowded out, and Nicholls was pleased to see another shot fly harmlessly wide of the mark.
There was concern on the Wigan bench when Holt was unceremoniously dumped on his backside by Cesar Navas on halfway.
The referee was quick to brandish the yellow card, but the defender was possibly fortunate it wasn’t red given the nature of the challenge.
Holt was able to continue after lengthy treatment, before the Latics boss made his three substitutions in quick succession.
Powell, Marc-Antoine Fortune and Jordi Gomez replaced Perch, Holt and McManaman, and the Manchester United loan man made an immediate impression.
Despite the attention of three defenders, Powell skipped past the trip and steadied himself for the shot.
The left-footed effort went wide of the near post, but it was a real sign on encouragement from the visitors.
Torbinski fired just wide for Rubin, before a lovely move - with the help of a great advantage by the official - saw Ryazantsev race clear via a neat one-two.
Thankfully for Latics the shot was blocked by Rogne, with the official going back to the earlier incident and booking McClean for his foul on Natcho.
Latics came agonisingly close to a leveller when Roger Espinoza’s cross was headed against the bar by Rogne, with the goalkeeper well beaten.
At the other end, Mubarak Wakaso’s cross was half-spilled by Nicholls, who regathered just in time with Prudnikov sniffing around.
Prudnikov thought he was through moments later but, with the offside flag up, Nicholls made a fantastic save in any case.
Latics were once again inches away from levelling the scores when Gomez’s corner was flicked inches wide of the far post by McClean.
But it was nearly game over in the closing stages when a Latics attack broke down leaving a six-on-one Rubin counter-attack.
Somehow Stephen Crainey came out with the bal, but Latics couldn’t take full advantage.
They had one final effort, in added time, but Gomez’s free-kick found the wall rather than the back of the net and Wigan’s fate was sealed.
Latics: Nicholls; Shotton, Rogne, Barnett, Crainey; Perch; McArthur, Espinoza; McManaman, McClean, Holt.
Subs: Pollitt, McCann, Gomez (for McManaman, 74), Boyce, Powell (for Perch, 60), Garcia, Fortune (for Holt, 71).
Rubin Kazan: Ryzhikov; Kuzmin, Sharonov, Cesar Navas, Mavinga; M’Vila, Natcho; Eremenko, Torbinski, Ryazantsev; Mukhametshin.
Subs: Berezin, Kulik, Prudnikov (for Mukhametshin, 84), Kislyak (for Mavinga, 46), Wakaso (for Torbinski, ), Dzhalilov.