OXFORD United suffered late heartbreak for the second Tuesday running as a terrific defensive effort was undone by Will Grigg’s tap-in.

The striker, who had scored a hat-trick in Wigan Athletic’s 7-0 win at the Kassam Stadium in December, finally broke the visitors’ resistance four minutes from time.

Up to that point United had put in a huge effort to carry out a strategy which saw them uncharacteristically sit back and soak up pressure.

The visitors had to ride their luck in the first half as Michael Jacobs hit the crossbar, but the hosts grew increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress.

Some Latics supporters were beginning to head for the exits as United closed in on a point which would have been precious in their battle to get safe in Sky Bet League One.

But Grigg’s late effort proved the difference as United were edged out, just as they had been in a completely different performance against Fleetwood Town a week earlier.

It was tough to take, but the U’s were given a standing ovation from their supporters, who saw plenty to be encouraged about heading into the final three games.

U’s boss Karl Robinson had made it clear changes would be made and the teamsheet showed alterations to half his outfield side from Saturday’s win over Southend United.

A quartet – John Mousinho, Wes Thomas, Jon Obika and James Henry – did not even travel, with one eye on Saturday’s game at Doncaster Rovers.

In their place Curtis Nelson made his first start since November, while Canice Carroll was deployed in a five-man midfield behind Gino van Kessel.

The lone striker won a corner inside 15 seconds, which was headed out for Ricardinho to volley a warning shot from the edge of the box just wide.

It was a rare foray into Wigan territory for the visitors, whose game plan quickly became very clear.

Out went the expansive, attacking football which Robinson normally favours and in came a safety-first, defensive display.

Centre backs Chey Dunkley and Dan Burn were allowed time on the ball, but everyone else in blue and white was pressurised in possession.

The ploy worked well early on, with several attacks breaking down by loose passes going astray.

It took Wigan 20 minutes to force U’s goalkeeper Simon Eastwood into action with an awkward bobbling shot from Max Power.

Gradually the hosts began to find space and as United sat deep, the pressure grew.

Gary Roberts split the defence just before the half-hour mark to find Jacobs, whose shot smacked the crossbar and ran safe.

Eastwood then made a superb finger-tip save to deny Power from a free-kick wide on the left following a lunge which saw Todd Kane booked.

United were trying to slow the game where possible, but Van Kessel was having little joy in holding the ball up when the visitors got possession.

Alex Mowatt hacked a corner off the line and although it looked like they were hanging on for the half-time whistle, the U’s finished the half strongly.

A Kane free-kick was headed to Carroll 25 yards out and the youngster took on the volley without hesitation, firing a sweetly-struck effort inches wide.

United will have been delighted to reach the break on level terms and they irked the home fans by keeping Wigan waiting for the start of the second half.

With the hosts ready to go and the U’s going through their warm-up drill on the touchline, Wigan kicked off and ran at an exposed Eastwood before the referee called them back.

The pattern of the game remained the same once it got under way again.

Robinson turned to his bench twice before the hour mark, replacing Van Kessel and Buckley-Ricketts with Joe Rothwell and Ryan Ledson.

It left Carroll pushed forward as the unlikely lone front man, with the teenager’s brief as much about mischief as it was holding the ball up.

Grigg and Gavin Massey, who scored four goals between them at the Kassam Stadium, were introduced from the bench as Wigan pushed for a breakthrough.

But they were unable to build the sort of pressure they had exerted in the first half and United even began to get bolder as they reached the latter stages.

However, just as it looked like the visitors would take something down the M6, Wigan’s substitutes combined.

Devante Cole was played through and with Eastwood advancing to close him down, the winger squared to give Grigg a tap-in for his 25th goal of the season.

Eastwood denied Massey with a terrific save in stoppage-time, during which Wigan held the ball by the corner flag to run down the clock.

It was a complete contrast to the reverse fixture, but Wigan again took the points as they edged closer to the Championship.

Wigan Ath (4-2-3-1): Walton, Power, Burn, Dunkley, Elder, Fulton (Massey 68), Morsy, Colclough (Grigg 65), Roberts, Jacobs, Vaughan (Cole 83).

Unused subs: Jones, Perkins, Walker, Bruce.

Booked: None.

Oxford Utd (4-1-4-1): Eastwood, Kane, Dickie, Nelson, Ricardinho, Ruffels, Mowatt, Carroll (Mehmeti 75), Brannagan, Buckley-Ricketts (Rothwell 53), Van Kessel (Ledson 59).

Unused subs: Shearer, Martin, Hall, Napa.

Booked: Kane, Brannagan.

Referee: Trevor Kettle (Leicestershire).

Attendance: 8,316 (445 visitors).