A header from Tim Chow on his home debut and a late winner from James Perch was enough to ensure that Wigan Athletic live to fight another day, with a crucial victory in a pulsating encounter at the DW Stadium.
Dale Stephens’ second half header looked to have sealed Latics’ fate, before Perch’s determination provided Gary Caldwell with a massive three points in his first home game as manager.
The result means that Latics now trail Rotherham United by five points with two games to play, but the situation could yet still change, pending the outcome of the Football League’s case against the Millers fielding an ineligible player, something which could see the deficit cut even smaller.
Caldwell made two changes to the side which lost at Millwall in mid-week, and handed a full debut to the Billinge born Tim Chow, who started in midfield alongside Don Cowie, who also came in to the side in place of Emmerson Boyce and Marc-Antoine Fortune.
Latics made a steady start to the contest, and saw plenty of the ball from the offset, with all of Caldwell’s men impressing with their composure when in possession.
Despite the high levels of possession, Latics were struggling to create a definitive chance in the opening exchanges, and it was Brighton who produced the first opportunity of the contest in the ninth minute, when Dale Stephens looped his effort just over the bar from a corner kick.
Latics continued to look composed and assured on the ball, and their progressive play almost paid dividends on the quarter of an hour mark, when Jermaine Pennant played a clever one-two with Tim Chow, before just failing to get on the end of the ball in a dangerous position in the area.
Latics continued to be patient, and were unlucky not to test Stockdale nine minutes later, when Gaetan Bong’s low cross into the area found Pennant, who couldn’t quite get the ball from under his feet and fired wide.
Caldwell’s men were firmly in control, and their dominance was rewarded two minutes later through Tim Chow, who rose well to meet Pennant’s cross from the right and head into the bottom left hand corner of the goal. It was a proud moment for the midfielder, who has been with the club since he was ten years old.
Latics were buoyed by the goal, and they could have doubled their lead eight minutes later through William Kvist, who stung the hands of Stockdale with a fizzing effort from range.
James McClean almost capped off the perfect half on the stroke of half time when he broke through on goal, but he couldn’t quite beat Stockdale with his low finish, with the goalkeeper producing a smart save to deny the forward, to keep Latics’ lead at just the one goal at the interval.
The second half began in almost an identical way to the first, with Latics again seeing plenty of the ball in a very assured start.
Brighton began to get into gear however, and were level just nine minutes into the second half through Dale Stephens, who was first to the ball from a corner and produced a low finish past Scott Carson.
The visitors were set alight by the goal, and almost took the lead within three minutes of their equaliser, when Kazenga Lua Lua fizzed his effort wide of the far post from the left hand edge of the area. Latics were rocked, and found themselves having to dig in to keep the scores level.
The game began to really heat up, with Wigan Athletic knowing that anything less than a win would not be good enough to keep their survival hopes alive.
Both sides started to press forward, and were taking turns in attacking each others’ goal on the break, leading to a really open contest.
The fans were really getting behind the players, and there were huge claims for a penalty in the 67th minute, when Marc-Antoine Fortune was floored in the area, only for the referee to wave the play on.
Latics were getting closer, and they almost took the lead thirteen minutes from time through Kim Bo-Kyung, who rattled the side netting with his effort from just inside the area.
Latics continued to pour forward, and their determination was rewarded with just eight minutes left on the clock through James Perch, who smashed the ball home on the goal line, after Fortune’s cross was deflected goal-wards by a Brighton defender.
There was some initial confusion as to who got the definitive touch, with Fortune’s cross heading goal-wards after taking a deflection, before Perch made absolutely sure by blasting the ball home on the line.
The tension around the DW Stadium was palpable in the dying minutes, with Brighton continuing to look dangerous, but Latics held on to record a crucial win and keep their hopes of survival alive.