Will Grigg's 15th Sky Bet League One goal of the season salvaged a late point for Latics at relegation battling Colchester United, despite Latics having twice been ahead in the first half through goals from Yanic Wildschut and Ryan Colclough.
The 3-3 draw came as a relief at the whistle, with Alex Gilbey and Elliot Lee producing stunning goals to level twice for the hosts, before George Moncur won and scored from the penalty spot with half an hour to play.
Grigg's dramatic finish from substitute Craig Davies' deflected effort extends Latics' unbeaten run to 15, but the single point allowed Gillingham and Walsall to close the gap on Gary Caldwell's side in second place, with the chasing pair both winners on the day.
Latics made two changes coming into the clash at the Weston Homes Community Stadium, with new signing Stephen Warnock making his debut for the club, whilst Sam Morsy returned from suspension following his sending off in the 0-0 draw at Millwall. Jussi Jaaskelainen remained in goal after shaking off his head injury picked up against Peterborough United last weekend
Jason Pearce and Conor McAleny were forced to sit out due to injuries, but there was good news for Kevin McNaughton, who returned to the match day squad for the first time since his injury against Gillingham back in August.
Latics began in a confident mood, Colclough time after time wriggling between defenders to try and work his way into the area. The driving force forwards gave Caldwell's side confidence in the opening stages, dominating in possession and moving the ball around the Colchester half with precision.
Wildschut was also in an attacking mood, with the Dutchman setting up the first two chances of the half, his battling qualities down the left side seeing the ball loose for Grigg on the penalty spot, but the forward was twice denied by instinctive saves from Elliot Parish.
The corner count rose as Latics upped the pressure, with the shot tally also rising, this time Max Power was denied by Parish's left boot from the edge of the area, another instinctive stop.
Despite Latics controlling almost all of the opening half an hour, Colchester fired a warning shot when Moncur dragged a left footed effort across Jussi Jaaskelainen, with only a big outstretched left hand denying the U's the opening goal.
Moncur was on hand again to give the 592 travelling Latics supporters a fright, this time he aimed for the bottom left, but was once again met by the paws of Jaaskelainen. Another telling save.
Two minutes later and it was pandemonium for the travelling support. Grigg's pressure on Tom Eastman, a feature throughout the first half, finally paid off. The striker stole the ball back on the right side before sliding it across to Wildschut on the left, the Dutchman composing himself before slotting past Parish into the bottom right corner.
The lead lasted just five minutes though, Latics giving Gilbey too much space from distance, an invite the midfielder couldn't refuse as he struck left footed to find the right hand corner of Jaaskelainen's goal.
Momentum looked to be shifting heading into the break, but Wildschut's endeavour in the area made sure it was Latics ahead at half time.
The 24-year-old barged his way into the box down the left side, releasing it to Colclough in the centre, with the former Crewe Alexandra winger providing a similar finish to the opening goal as he slotted into the bottom right.
A succession of corners kicked off the second half for the visitors, but Colchester rallied quickly to equalise for a second time.
Once again their midfield worked space, this time Lee dodging David Perkins' challenge on the edge of the area before firing his shot into the left hand corner to send the home crowd wild behind the goal.
At 2-2 Latics looked to try and impose themselves once more, but on the hour mark the seemingly unthinkable happened. Moncur raced down the left side, opening the ball up in the area and inviting Reece Wabara's challenge, all to easy for the Colchester man who pushed the ball towards the by-line before tumbling under the challenge.
Moncur dusted himself off to take the spot kick and the turnaround was complete, 3-2 to the hosts.
With the remaining three of the top four all winning, Latics needed to work quickly to turn things around. Andy Kellett became the first of three second half substitutes when he replaced Morsy, whilst Craig Davies' introduction for Colclough quickly followed.
Latics were knocking at the door, moving the ball well around the edge of Colchester's area, but finding the resolve of the packed defence difficult to break down.
Wildschut came close to levelling when he controlled a high clearance at the second time of asking, dancing past the right full back on the by-line, but flashing his right footed shot across the face of goal.
Donervon Daniels came even closer when his header settled on the roof of the net, with substitute Kellett clipping a left footed effort onto the top of the cross bar.
Haris Vuckic was introduced for Daniels to try and ruffle the defensive feathers as Latics went even more attacking, and it worked.
Latics pushed and pushed, and finally the equaliser came. Davies made himself a nuisance in the area to muscle off defenders, before his desperate effort deflected over the Colchester defence and straight into the path of Grigg for the inevitable.
With 14 league goals prior to this game it was a sure thing when the ball fell to Grigg's feet, the striker sweeping the ball into the bottom left corner to give the fans behind the goal what could be a crucial point in Latics battle for promotion.
Colchester began to back track, feeling the pressure of the four-man front line. Vuckic almost won it with what turned out to be the last considerable effort of the game, but the Slovenian's left footed effort. cutting in from the right, flew wide of the left post. Final score 3-3.