Latics dominated high-flying Brighton & Hove Albion but were made to pay the highest price for not converting chances when substitute Dale Stephens powered in a superb long range winner midway through the second half.
Until the visitors scored, Latics looked the likelier team to score but the goal changed the whole complexion of the game and Latics never truly regained their stride.
Gary Caldwell recalled Reece Burke at right back following six games out through injury, Nathan Byrne making way.
Nick Powell’s clever chest-down after just six minutes freed Michael Jacobs to shoot from an angle but he skewered his effort a yard wide. Then Powell himself rose majestically to meet David Perkins’ cross on 22 minutes, but from eight yards out David Stockdale stretched brilliantly to deny him. Dan Burn did get the ball across the line in the scramble that followed but he was judged to have been marginally offside when he met the ball.
It proved to be Powell’s last significant involvement before limping off ten minutes later following a tackle by Oliver Norwood, Byrne replacing him. Within seconds, Byrne almost found himself one on one with Stockdale after Will Grigg had dispossessed Bruno on the halfway line, but former Latics defender Gaetan Bong made a last ditch interception and was able to clear.
Byrne was then set up by Max Power’s dummy following a clever free-kick on the right hand side but his shot from near the penalty spot was superbly blocked. The lively Byrne also created an opportunity virtually single handed in the 44th minute, weaving his way past two defenders before placing an angled shot just wide.
Adam Bogdan made a great save to deny Sam Baldock from ten yards on 40 minutes, but a misplaced Shane Duffy header from an early Jiri Skalak corner aside, the visitors didn’t carve out anything else in the way of clear-cut chances before the break.
Latics signalled their attacking intent straight from the kick-off, Burke and Byrne both trying their luck from distance within three minutes of the restart, both efforts going narrowly wide.
Latics continued to press and the DW Stadium was up in arms when veteran Steve Sidwell tackled Jacobs from behind on the edge of the box but nothing was given.
Such was Latics’ dominance, Brighton made a double substitution on the hour in an attempt to stem the tide, Oliver Norwood and Anthony Knockaert making way for Stephens and Jamie Murphy and it was Stephens who made the breakthrough eight minutes later.
Brighton broke down the left, the ball falling to Bong. His cross to the far post fell to Skalak who teed up Stephens to curl a great side-foot shot from the edge of the box which gave Bogdan no chance. A cruel blow for Latics.
Caldwell immediately replaced Grigg with Adam Le Fondre, then brought on Craig Davies in the 75th minute, Perkins the one to make way. However, even with the two men upfront, Latics found it hard to make inroads and in committing players forwards, they left themselves open to Brighton counter-attacks and it was the visitors who looked the more commanding team in the closing stages.
Jacobs did force a last ditch clearance from Bong in injury time, just after Le Fondre appeared to be bundled over in the box, but the referee showed him a yellow card for simulation.