WALSALL 1-2 WIGANWalsall’s automatic promotion hopes suffered a setback after substitute Yanic Wildschut’s last-minute goal earned high-flying Wigan victory.
Conor McAleny’s sensational first-half strike put the Latics ahead, but Sam Mantom equalised with a thunderbolt on 68 minutes.
The match looked to be heading for a draw until Wildschut fired home a dramatic winner in the first minute of added time.
Victory lifted Wigan above their hosts into second place, while Walsall slipped to fourth after a third home defeat in four matches.
The Saddlers were unchanged from the side that drew 1-1 at relegation-threatened Crewe last weekend.
Youngster Maz Kouhyar, who signed his first professional contract this week, was named on the bench in place of the injured Rico Henry.
Club captain Adam Chambers was making his 500th career appearance.
Wigan had the game’s first attempt inside the opening minute, McAleny dragging a weak right-footed shot wide from the edge of the area.
Gary Caldwell’s Latics, unbeaten in ten heading into this top-of-the-table clash, were the more threatening team in a scrappy first half-hour.
Ryan Colclough, Craig Morgan and Max Power each tried their luck from long range, but were unable to test Neil Etheridge in the home goal.
The visitors gradually began to take control of proceedings and fashioned the game’s first meaningful opportunity on 28 minutes.
David Perkins’ inviting left-wing cross ran to the far post, where the stretching Will Grigg couldn’t convert from close range.
The Latics continued to look the brighter of the two sides, with Colclough twisting and turning before firing into the side-netting from a tricky angle.
And six minutes before the break, they got their noses in front thanks to a wonder goal from Everton loanee McAleny.
The striker unleashed a vicious, dipping right-footed strike from 25 yards which flew over the helpess Etheridge and into the roof of the net.
With confidence now coursing through their veins, Wigan pushed for a second goal.
Donervon Daniels broke into the area and fizzed in a low cross but Grigg was unable to make contact.
Moments later, ex-Saddler Grigg, Walsall’s Player of the Season in 2012/13, saw a firm right-footed drive beaten away by Etheridge.
And Wigan went close again on the stroke of half-time, McAleny curling a fine free-kick inches over the bar.
HALF-TIME: WALSALL 0-1 WIGAN
With the words of head coach Sean O’Driscoll ringing in their ears, Walsall made a purposeful start to the second half.
Jason Demetriou saw a goalbound effort blocked by Sam Morsy and Lalkovic collected a pass from Romaine Sawyers, span and fired wide from 20 yards.
Despite Walsall’s improvement, Wigan remained a real threat, with Grigg heading wide at the near post from Colclough’s accurate cross.
Grigg was heavily involved and on 59 minutes, he chased a long pass and pulled the ball back for the onrushing McAleny to fire over.
Shortly after, Daniels crossed low from the right for Grigg, who fired a first-time effort into the side-netting.
Wigan appeared in complete control but, out of nowhere, Walsall equalised with a stunning strike on 68 minutes.
Demetriou’s free-kick struck the wall and dropped for Mantom to unleash a 25-yard thunderbolt which flew into the top corner like an exocet missile.
It was a wonderful goal – his sixth of the season – and was a fine way for the midfielder to celebrate his 24th birthday.
Walsall were transformed.
Visiting keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen made a fine double save to deny Lalkovic, first saving with his legs before parrying the follow up.
Anthony Forde then went close with a rasping right-footed drive from outside the area which whistled just wide of the far post.
Wigan, though, should really have taken the lead with 13 minutes remaining.
The lively Grigg raced in behind the home defence but, one-on-one with Etheridge, he scuffed his shot wastefully wide.
Undeterred, Walsall continued to press for a winner.
Lalkovic worked space before shooting straight at Jaaskelainen, who then tipped over Forde’s right-footed curler.
But just past the 90-minute mark, Wigan struck the decisive blow.
Wildschut collected the ball out wide and drifted infield before drilling a fizzing 20-yard strike beyond Etheridge at his near post.
FULL-TIME: WALSALL 1-2 WIGAN
Team: Etheridge, Demetriou, Downing, Preston (Cook 90'), Taylor, Chambers, Mantom, Lalkovic, Sawyers, Forde, Bradshaw.
Subs not used: Roberts, Flanagan, Kieron Morris, Kinsella, Bryn Morris, Kouhyar.
Attendance: 6,740 (1,799 Wigan supporters).