WIGAN Athletic’s proud unbeaten home league record came to a shuddering halt as Burton Albion hit them with a classic sucker-punch inside the last quarter.
With the home side in charge and pushing for a winner, it all went wrong when the visitors successfully repelled a Latics corner and broke with menace.
Substitute Timmy Thiele raced half the length of the field down the left-hand side, with Latics skipper Craig Morgan unable to get across and stop him.
That left Abdenasser El Khayati in acres of space in the middle, and the Albion man produced a clinical first-time finish to beat Jussi Jaaskelainen.
It was the first goal the Finn had conceded at the DW Stadium in his sixth outing as a Wigan player, and it proved to be the match-winner.
Will Grigg and Francisco Junior joined Craig Davies off the bench as Latics went in search of a late leveller, but the visitors showed exactly why they boast the best defensive record in the division.
Latics did create one chance to equalise with five minutes remaining, but Max Power fluffed his lines from 10 yards.
The ball somehow found its way to team-mate Reece James, but the wing-back could only direct his close-range shot against the outside of the post.
It was Wigan’s first league defeat for two months, and sees them drop back to fifth in the table - five points behind leaders Coventry.
They had received a massive pre-match boost with Michael Jacobs passing a fitness test and taking his place on the right wing in an unchanged side from the weekend win over Shrewsbury.
It was a predictably cagey opening, with both sides have proved extremely difficult to break down in recent weeks.
On a greasy surface, it wasn’t surprising one or two of the early challenges were being mistimed.
Chris McCann was quickly yellow-carded for leaving Stuart Beavon pole-axed in centre-field, and Albion’s Calum Butcher joined him moments later for clipping James.
Referee Mark Haywood was incurring the wrath of both sides for a series of baffling decisions, on one occasion having both managers in the technical area waving their arms in disbelief.
Burton, promoted from League Two last term, were certainly not in awe of Latics like so many visiting teams have been this season, and were looking just as dangerous if not more so going forward.
Mark Duffy cut in ominously off the left, and his shot might have caused Jaaskelainen a problem had it not flicked birthday boy Donervon Daniels on the way behind for a corner.
Daniels then had to be alert to get his toe to an attempted through ball to Beavon, who was causing plenty of problems with his pace and movement.
Latics briefly threatened when Yanic Wildschut took advantage of a loose ball inside his own half and raced forwards, only to be let down at the end by a poor touch which allowed the last defender to clear.
Other than that it was a really frustrating opening 45 from the home side, with misplaced passes and players on different wavelengths very much the order of the day.
At the other end, the visitors were continuing to threaten, with El Khayati firing high and wide before having another effort blocked by McCann.
Jacobs fired over on the stroke of half-time, and it was the visitors who would have undoubtedly been more pleased with their first-half performance.
Credit Latics, though, they came out for the second half with a spring in their step and seized control of the game.
Within a minute of the restart, Wildschut’s cross was only just too high for Tim Chow, with the Dutchman’s next threat only being ended with a trip on the edge of the area.
Jacobs went for goal from a tight angle, and goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin was relieved to see it flick off a defender on its way behind for a corner.
A lovely flick from Alex Revell then released the flying Wildschut, who unfortunately got the ball caught up in his feet which allowed the last defender to get his foot in.
Other than a Duffy effort which was sent straight at Jaaskelainen, Albion were offering little in the way of an attacking threat.
Latics made a change to try to tip the balance their way, Davies replacing Revell up top.
But just as the home side were looking on.the verge of a breakthrough, they were hit by a classic counter-attack with 15 minutes remaining.
After Latics had failed to make the most of an umpteenth corner of the night, Power turned down a blind alley and lost possession.
In a flash, the visitors were breaking forward in numbers, with Thiele showing a clean pair of heels to Morgan down the left wing.
El Khayati was completely unmarked in the middle, the cross in to him was inch-perfect, and the finish was as cool as you like.
Staring down the barrels of a first home league defeat since April, boss Caldwell went all-in and sent on Grigg and Junior for Morgan and Jacobs.
And he was nearly rewarded with a late equaliser, only for Power and then James to fail to hit the target from wonderful positions.