A spirited fight back in the second half wasn't enough to turn around a trio of goals inside the first 30 minutes from visitors Derby County as Latics fell to a 3-1 defeat, their third defeat in three games at the DW Stadium.
Craig Bryson put the Rams ahead with a free kick after three minutes, Simon Dawkins capitalised on a poor pass from Ben Watson and Chris Martin converted from the penalty spot on 29 minutes after James McClean gave it away.
Owen Coyle made two surprise additions to his starting line up, as Ivan Ramis returned to the starting XI for the first time since his knee injury in January against Fulham and loan signing Will Keane made his debut after joining on loan from Manchester United on Thursday.
Ramis was at the heart of the action just moments into his return, when a foul by James McArthur sent himself and the Derby forward tumbling into the Spanish centre half for a free kick on the edge of the area.
Bryson stepped up with precision to curl the ball over the wall and into the top right corner, with Lee Nicholls only able to get fingertips to the effort.
On 15 minutes former Latics trialist Dawkins then made it 2-0 when he took advantage of a stray Watson pass.
The tricky wide man stole in as Watson attempted to square the ball to right back Emmerson Boyce, and the man on loan from Tottenham Hotspur simply slotted into the right corner to double the lead.
Derby continued their all action start to the first half and on 28 minutes they had an opportunity to make it 3-0 when McClean tumbled Chris Martin from behind as the physical Derby striker forced his way into the penalty area.
Martin stepped up to do the honours for the Rams to take a shock 3-0 lead.
Latics needed a reaction and a minute before half time they nearly grabbed a goal back when Stephen Crainey curled a free kick over the wall, but saw his effort bounce back down off the cross bar.
The woodwork and some instinctive saves from Lee Grant kept Latics from a spirited come back in the second half, but only after Nick Powell gave his side the hope they needed just five minutes after the restart.
A double substitution at half time gave Latics a new dimension, with Roger Espinoza and Grant Holt replacing Watson and Keane, but it was Powell who got the ball rolling when he headed in an Emmerson Boyce cross from the centre of the penalty area.
Holt's impact forced the cross bar to rattle for a second time in the match, when his cross was deflected onto the bar by Derby defender Andre Wisdom.
Latics were attacking with intent in the second half and the supporters inside the DW Stadium were creating the buzz needed to get behind their side.
With 20 minutes remaining Powell came close to a second when Grant pulled off the first of two outstanding second half saves, as he tipped away a point blank volley for the Man United loanee.
Holt struck over from 10 yards in the final minute of normal time and a minute later Leon Barnett had a close range header punched away by Grant.
The Derby stopper was called into action again in the 93rd minute when Holt connected at the back post with a Powell cross from the right, only for Grant to hold onto his effort, despite the striker claiming the ball had crossed the line.
The full five minutes of added time ran down and Latics dropped to a 3-1 defeat.