Visitors blow chance to escape drop zone after Ashley Young cancelled out Charles N'Zogbia's opener during a heated match at Villa Park
Charles N'Zogbia opened the scoring in the 10th minute only for his strike to be cancelled out by an Ashley Young freekick just seven minutes later. Chances remained at a premium for the rest of a heated encounter as Wigan's eyes move to the result of Blackpool's clash with Tottenham Hotspur later on Saturday evening.
Villa caretaker manager Gary McAllister was rocked overnight by the news Gabriel Agbonlahor had taken ill. The Scot reacted by teaming Wigan old boy Emile Heskey up front with Darren Bent in the only change from the team that collapsed to a 2-1 defeat to West Bromwich Albion last weekend.
For the Latics, midfield battler Mohamed Diame failed to recover from the knock he picked up in last Saturday's 1-1 draw with Everton. The Frenchman was replaced by winger Victor Moses as boss Roberto Martinez decided to drop Tom Cleverley back into the center.
The grey skies above Villa Park transferred to the players as they endured a subdued beginning to the match. The only sign of an early breakthrough came in the fifth minute when a one-two between N'Zogbia and Cleverley on the edge of the Villa box was not controlled by the Manchester United loanee.
Villa then sprung into life in the eighth minute after an excellent tackle by James Collins in the center circle led to Stewart Downing playing in Ashley Young. Heskey was just beaten to the England man's in-swinging cross from the left flank by Gary Caldwell.
Just as Villa seemed to have a foothold in the game, N'Zogbia took full advantage of some less than convincing defending from Collins to fire home a vital opener in the 10th minute. The wideman slotted coolly past Brad Friedel after he was played in by the onrushing Moses who had taken full advantage of a bobble caused by Collins' hesitancy on the edge of his own area.
The traveling Wigan support burst into a chant of 'we are staying up' which was quelled by Ashley Young in the 17th minute. The England man curled a low 25-yard freekick into the bottom left corner of Ali Al Habsi's net which should really have been palmed away to safety after the Omani got fingertips to it.
Villa now started to turn the screw on its lowly opponents and Heskey should have put it into the lead on 21 minutes. The center forward displayed the lack of killer instinct which netted him just 13 goals in 88 Wigan appearances when he volleyed straight at Al Habsi from five yards after Moses' clearing header fell invitingly towards him.
Tempers flared in the 32nd minute after referee Mike Jones failed to give Heskey a freekick after he was clattered by Antolin Alcaraz. The former England international sprung up and seemed to barged into Jones but he was just handed a caution for dissent.
Ashley Young was then lucky not to follow Heskey into the book in the 36th minute after a blatant dive inside the Wigan area when he expected contact from James McCarthy.
Wigan's heart was in its mouth on 40 minutes after Ben Watson was caught in possession just outside his own penalty box by a slide tackle from Heskey. The ball rebounded agonizingly wide of Darren Bent and the striker's cut back was shot harmlessly at Al Habsi by captain Stiliyan Petrov.
The final minutes of the half were owned by the traveling side as it pushed for all three points. First, N'Zogbia embarrassingly topped the ball after he skipped inside Luke Young in the 44th minute.
As the half entered injury time, a scramble from a deflected Cleverley shot saw a deep cross from Watson expertly trapped by Alcaraz when in space five yards from goal. The Paraguay international cut past Collins but his shot was blocked by the sprawling Richard Dunne with Friedel's net at his mercy.
Close call | Emile Heskey cuts a frustrated figure as Wigan salvage a draw at Villa Park
The anger from perceived injustices by Jones' decisions led to several heated debates between the players as they headed to the dressing rooms. Caldwell and Ashley Young, in particular, had to be kept apart by teammates and security.
All the heat from the first half evaporated as the players calmed down during the interval. It took until the 55th minute for the first chance to be wasted by Moses after his poor touch from a cross by the rampaging Emerson Boyce led to him shooting straight at Friedel when well positioned.
Villa took nearly 20 minutes to threaten. It finally bore down on the Wigan goal in the 63rd minute, but Ashley Young's low cross was intercepted by Al Habsi with Bent poised to slot home.
The Latics responded in the 77th minute when Hugo Rodallega chested a knockdown from substitute Franco Di Santo. The Colombian's swiveled shot went agonizingly wide of Friedel's left post.
Bent then wasted the best chance of the half in the 83rd minute after he was put through one-on-one with Al Habsi by an incisive through ball from Ashley Young. However, the striker showed none of the lethality that saw Villa invest £24 million in him during the January transfer window and he shot straight at Al Habsi.
Ultimately Wigan survived to claim a point but its top flight status remains in the balance with just two games remaining of the season.
Follow Goal.com on to get the latest soccer news directly. Check out Goal.com's page; be part of the best soccer fan community in the world!