Wigan's James McArthur tapped in a second-half winner to help the basement side move to within a point of neighbours Bolton.
The Latics took the lead through captain Gary Caldwell, who rose high to head in Jean Beausejour's corner.
McArthur spurned a chance to double Wigan's lead when he fired straight at Adam Bogdan from close range.
Mark Davies rifled in a half-volley to restore parity but McArthur atoned for his earlier miss to score the winner.
It may only be February but the game was must-win for two teams who are battling relegation and, as the Wigan players celebrated what could prove to be a pivotal win in their season at full-time, jeers rung out from disgruntled fans inside a Reebok Stadium.
But Bolton can have little complaints with the outcome, having been second best for long periods and only putting Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi under significant pressure after the half-time introduction of Ryo Miyaichi - the Japanese youngster who was signed on loan from Arsenal in January .
Owen Coyle's side came flying out of the blocks and threatened Wigan from the start, with Caldwell almost turning into his own net after Martin Petrov's excellent delivery from the left caused panic.
Caldwell survived a handball claim moments later as Bolton started on the front foot.
But Wigan weathered the storm and grew into the contest, playing much of the first half as though their Premier League status depended on it.
Franco Di Santo, booked in the first half by Howard Webb for not allowing Bogdan to take a goal kick, was bright throughout and his low effort, turned around the post by Bogdan, led to the corner from which Wigan took the lead.
Escaping the attention of David Wheater, Caldwell found space in a packed penalty box to nod Wigan into the lead.
It was a lead the visitors richly deserved and threatened to add to in the second half, but McArthur was guilty of a bad miss that let Bolton off the hook.
Victor Moses made a driving run down the right before cutting back to McArthur who, only needing to put the ball either side of Bogdan, struck a tame effort straight at the goalkeeper.
And Bolton made McArthur pay for the miss, drawing level moments later with a classic route-one style goal.
A long punt forward by Bogdan deflected off the back of David Ngog and Mark Davies ran on to the loose ball and hammered it into the roof of the net on the half-volley.
The goal energised Bolton and, despite the boos directed at Coyle for replacing Chris Eagles with Miyaichi, the 19-year-old substitute added some much-welcome spark and creativity to Bolton's attacks.
But Wigan, who had gone nine league games without a win ahead of this fixture, absorbed the Bolton pressure and struck a winner that could prove a stepping stone to survival.
Getting ahead of Sam Ricketts, Moses burst forward into a shooting position. His shot was parried by Bogdan, but McArthur was on hand to tap in the loose ball to net the crucial winner.
Blackburn's victory over QPR added extra significance to Wigan's victory, who, instead of being cut adrift at the bottom of the league, have stayed in touch with their Lancashire rivals in the battle to avoid relegation, with two points now separating the bottom five clubs.
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Live Text Commentary
Full Time The referee signals the end of the game.90:00 +3:30
Jean Beausejour takes the indirect free kick.90:00 +3:30 Booking
Booking Gretar Rafn Steinsson is shown a yellow card.90:00 +3:22
Unfair challenge on Hugo Rodallega by Gretar Rafn Steinsson results in a free kick.90:00 +3:00
Tuncay Sanli takes a shot. James McArthur gets a block in.90:00 +1:54
Adam Bogdan takes the indirect free kick.90:00 +1:54 Substitution
Substitution David Jones joins the action as a substitute, replacing Franco Di Santo.90:00 +1:54
James McArthur concedes a free kick for a foul on Samuel Ricketts.90:00 +1:05
Jean Beausejour decides to take the corner short.89:41
Shot by Ivan Klasnic from deep inside the penalty area misses to the left of the goal.89:09
Franco Di Santo takes a shot. Save made by Ali Al Habsi.88:31
Unfair challenge on David Ngog by Antolin Alcaraz results in a free kick. Indirect free kick taken by Samuel Ricketts.86:37
The referee blows for offside against Hugo Rodallega. Free kick taken by Adam Bogdan.86:11
Outswinging corner taken from the right by-line by Ryo Miyaichi.85:38
Outswinging corner taken by Ryo Miyaichi from the right by-line, Victor Moses manages to make a clearance.85:17
Ryo Miyaichi takes a shot. Ali Al Habsi makes a save.82:52
Shot from just outside the box by Ivan Klasnic misses to the left of the goal.81:22
Unfair challenge on Victor Moses by Nigel Reo-Coker results in a free kick. Indirect free kick taken by Gary Caldwell.80:07
Foul by Samuel Ricketts on Victor Moses, free kick awarded. Antolin Alcaraz takes the indirect free kick.78:40
Emmerson Boyce is ruled offside. Free kick taken by Adam Bogdan.
David Wheater produces a right-footed shot from long range which goes wide right of the target.75:52
Victor Moses takes a shot. Save by Ali Al Habsi.75:48
Assist by Victor Moses.75:48 Goal scored
Goal! - James McArthur - Bolton 1 - 2 Wigan James McArthur scores a goal from close range to the bottom right corner of the goal. Bolton 1-2 Wigan.74:41
The referee blows for offside against Franco Di Santo. Adam Bogdan takes the indirect free kick.73:33 Substitution
Substitution Hugo Rodallega is brought on as a substitute for Jordi Gomez.73:33
Tuncay Sanli gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Maynor Figueroa. Indirect free kick taken by Ali Al Habsi.72:54
Free kick awarded for a foul by David Ngog on Maynor Figueroa. Ali Al Habsi restarts play with the free kick.71:53
Ryo Miyaichi decides to take a short corner.71:40
Ivan Klasnic takes a shot. Maynor Figueroa gets a block in.70:39
Franco Di Santo is caught offside. Adam Bogdan takes the free kick.69:55
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Victor Moses by Gretar Rafn Steinsson. Free kick taken by Maynor Figueroa.66:53
Assist by David Ngog.66:53 Goal scored
Goal! - Mark Davies - Bolton 1 - 1 Wigan Mark Davies fires in a goal from just outside the penalty box to the top left corner of the goal. Bolton 1-1 Wigan.66:36
Victor Moses is ruled offside. Indirect free kick taken by Adam Bogdan.65:34
Foul by Nigel Reo-Coker on James McArthur, free kick awarded. Jordi Gomez crosses the ball in from the free kick.63:58
Nigel Reo-Coker restarts play with the free kick.63:58 Booking
Booking James McCarthy is booked.63:52
James McCarthy gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Tuncay Sanli.62:17 Substitution
Substitution Ivan Klasnic is brought on as a substitute for Kevin Davies.61:38
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Gary Caldwell by Kevin Davies. Indirect free kick taken by Ali Al Habsi.60:49
David Wheater takes a shot. Save by Ali Al Habsi.60:06
James McArthur takes a shot. Save made by Adam Bogdan.56:28 Substitution
Substitution Tuncay Sanli replaces Chris Eagles.56:28
Maynor Figueroa takes the indirect free kick.56:28 Booking
Booking Kevin Davies booked.56:02
Kevin Davies concedes a free kick for a foul on Maynor Figueroa.54:56
Jordi Gomez fouled by Samuel Ricketts, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick crossed left-footed by Jordi Gomez from right wing, Samuel Ricketts manages to make a clearance.54:38
David Ngog concedes a free kick for a foul on James McArthur. Antolin Alcaraz takes the indirect free kick.51:51
Zat Knight fouled by Victor Moses, the ref awards a free kick. Indirect free kick taken by Zat Knight.50:41
Samuel Ricketts crosses the ball.47:48
Outswinging corner taken by Jean Beausejour from the left by-line.46:29
Emmerson Boyce has an effort at goal from deep inside the area missing to the left of the target.45:01
The referee blows his whistle to start the second half.45:01 Substitution
Substitution Ryo Miyaichi joins the action as a substitute, replacing Martin Petrov.45:00 +3:10 Half time
Half Time The referee blows for half time.45:00 +2:47
Jordi Gomez is caught offside. Indirect free kick taken by Adam Bogdan.45:00 +2:21
David Ngog concedes a free kick for a foul on James McCarthy. Free kick taken by Gary Caldwell.45:00 +1:03
Maynor Figueroa takes the free kick.45:00 +1:03 Booking
Booking Nigel Reo-Coker is shown a yellow card for unsporting behaviour.45:00 +0:52
Free kick awarded for a foul by Nigel Reo-Coker on Jean Beausejour.42:24
Assist by Jean Beausejour.42:24 Goal scored
Goal! - Gary Caldwell - Bolton 0 - 1 Wigan Gary Caldwell finds the net with a headed goal from close in. Bolton 0-1 Wigan.42:07
Corner from the left by-line taken by Jean Beausejour,41:53
Franco Di Santo has an effort at goal from 20 yards. Save by Adam Bogdan.41:02
Free kick awarded for a foul by Chris Eagles on Maynor Figueroa. Gary Caldwell takes the indirect free kick.39:08
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Kevin Davies by James McArthur. Martin Petrov crosses the ball in from the free kick, Gary Caldwell makes a clearance.38:05
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Antolin Alcaraz by David Ngog. Gary Caldwell restarts play with the free kick.37:31
Free kick awarded for a foul by Emmerson Boyce on Martin Petrov. Adam Bogdan restarts play with the free kick.33:51
Corner taken left-footed by Jean Beausejour to the near post, clearance by Nigel Reo-Coker.33:20
Outswinging corner taken left-footed by Jean Beausejour from the left by-line, Kevin Davies manages to make a clearance.32:23
Mark Davies gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Jordi Gomez. Gary Caldwell restarts play with the free kick.28:47
Corner taken by Martin Petrov from the right by-line played to the near post, clearance by Gary Caldwell.27:48
James McCarthy produces a right-footed shot from just outside the box that goes wide right of the goal.27:22
Corner from the left by-line taken by Jean Beausejour, David Wheater makes a clearance.26:20
Franco Di Santo fouled by David Wheater, the ref awards a free kick. Jordi Gomez restarts play with the free kick.25:17 Booking
Booking Franco Di Santo is booked.24:19
Corner taken by Jordi Gomez from the right by-line played to the near post, Adam Bogdan makes a save.22:32
Unfair challenge on Mark Davies by James McArthur results in a free kick. Indirect free kick taken by Zat Knight.21:14
The assistant referee signals for offside against Martin Petrov. Emmerson Boyce restarts play with the free kick.19:45
Franco Di Santo has an effort at goal from outside the box which goes wide right of the target.18:35
Nigel Reo-Coker has an effort at goal from just outside the area which goes wide of the left-hand post.18:05
Corner taken by Martin Petrov from the left by-line to the near post, clearance made by James McCarthy.17:24
Shot from 20 yards by Zat Knight. Blocked by Gary Caldwell.16:49
Franco Di Santo challenges Martin Petrov unfairly and gives away a free kick. Chris Eagles crosses the ball in from the free kick.13:45
Victor Moses has an effort at goal from deep inside the area missing to the left of the target.10:17
Jordi Gomez gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Samuel Ricketts. Free kick crossed left-footed by Martin Petrov from left channel, Gary Caldwell manages to make a clearance.9:31
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Victor Moses by Gretar Rafn Steinsson. Jean Beausejour restarts play with the free kick.5:53
Free kick awarded for a foul by David Ngog on James McArthur. Free kick taken by Gary Caldwell.5:17
David Ngog takes a shot. Blocked by Gary Caldwell.3:46
Corner taken left-footed by Martin Petrov, Header from deep inside the area by David Wheater goes over the bar.3:37
Chris Eagles takes a shot. Blocked by Gary Caldwell.1:58
Corner taken by Martin Petrov played to the near post, clearance made by James McCarthy.0:46
Jordi Gomez concedes a free kick for a foul on Mark Davies. Adam Bogdan takes the indirect free kick.0:00
The game begins.
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