Wigan 0 Middlesbrough 1
Mark Viduka's fortunate first-half strike left Wigan clinging onto their Barclays Premiership status by their fingertips at a stunned JJB Stadium.
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Paul Jewell's men must head to Sheffield United next week knowing even victory might not be enough to save them after results elsewhere consigned them to the bottom three.
Jewell, who expressed his anger at the Premier League's failure to deduct points from relegation rivals West Ham this week, will have found the circumstances of this defeat just as hard to stomach.
Boro winger Stewart Downing appeared to slip whilst delivering his 29th minute free-kick and the ball fell short on the edge of the six-yard box only for Viduka to react quickest and prod it home.
But the sad fact for Jewell is that for the second consecutive week his side failed to fire under pressure and their top-flight future now rests on miracles both at Bramall Lane and Old Trafford.
Jewell had started the game in bullish fashion, making five changes to the side which had performed so pitifully against West Ham last week, including switching goalkeepers in favour of Mike Pollitt.
And his changes seemed to have been vindicated in a bright start in front of a vocal JJB Stadium crowd, with Emile Heskey aiming an early header goalwards and Leighton Baines flinging in a dangerous cross.
In the seventh minute Antonio Valencia got round the back of the Boro defence and crossed for Julius Aghahowa in front of goal, but Jonathan Woodgate just got in first to prod the ball away.
But with Boro - who started the day still not mathematically safe themselves - offering virtually nothing in response, the longer Wigan failed to break through the more tension mounted.
Wigan almost made their breakthrough in the 17th minute when Taylor flung in a fine cross from deep on the right and McCulloch rose highest to beat Mark Schwarzer but saw his header strike the bar.
But Boro snatched their scarcely deserved lead in the 29th minute in bizarre fashion, when Downing apparently slipped in the process of delivering his 25-yard free-kick into the box.
The move seemingly caught out everybody except Viduka, who noticed the ball dropping invitingly on the edge of the six-yard box and stole in to sweep it past Pollitt.
Viduka's goal ignited a poor game, with Heskey incurring the wrath of Emanuel Pogatetz for a late barge on Schwarzer, and a powerful long-range drive from Josip Skoko well blocked by Pogatetz.
Then with tension clearly mounting McCullough misconnected with another clear header in the visitors' box after another cross from Taylor.
But as Wigan's desperation mounted they left themselves open to the counter-attack and should have fallen further behind when Downing burst clear only to be denied by a fine block by Pollitt.
And five minutes into the second half Downing squandered an even better chance when he burst clear onto Julio Arca's delightful lofted through-ball but shot wide with the goal at his mercy.
Moments later Viduka was inches away from connecting with a Fabio Rochemback free-kick into the Wigan box as the home side clearly began to struggle for composure at the back.
The Latics finally made an impression in the 52nd minute when Aghahowa seized on a loose ball in a crowded box but his snatched shot was easily saved by Schwarzer.
Then Valencia drove in a low shot which Schwarzer gathered at the second attempt before Andrew Davies headed a Downing corner just over the bar at the other end.
But as time ticked down and news from elsewhere became increasingly unfavourable, the Latics were unable to launch their required siege of the visitors' goal.
Ryan Taylor came close from a swirling free-kick 10 minutes from time while substitute Caleb Folan could only aim a weak header at Schwarzer three minutes later.
In typical end-of-season fashion, Pollitt ended the match in the opposite goalmouth desperately trying to snatch salvation for the Latics - but none was forthcoming.
Wigan Pollitt, Taylor, Boyce, Scharner, Baines (Unsworth 57),Valencia, Landzaat (Cotterill 64), Skoko, McCulloch, Heskey,Aghahowa (Folan 68).
Subs Not Used: Filan, Kilbane.
Booked: Baines, Valencia, Taylor.
Middlesbrough Schwarzer, Davies, Woodgate, Pogatetz, Taylor,Downing, Rochemback, Boateng (Cattermole 76), Arca,Viduka (Euell 86), Lee (Johnson 90).
Subs Not Used: Jones, Riggott.
Goals: Viduka 29.
Ref: M Clattenburg (Co Durham).