Just when Wigan seemed poised to climb out of the bottom three by digging out another improbable victory, they were pulled back by the luckiest of Tottenham equalisers in the final minute of normal time.

If Spurs barely deserved a point then Emmerson Boyce certainly did not deserve the ignominy of a late own goal that could end up sending his side down. But the Wigan captain appeared to get the decisive touch after Gareth Bale miscued a shot from Tom Huddlestone's low free-kick.

Spurs were thus able to prevent Wigan claiming a double after winning at White Hart Lane in November, although while the late drama kept the crowd agog, a point was not what either side was looking for.

Wigan have four games left and need at least three wins to guarantee survival, while Spurs, if they need Champions League football to keep hold of Bale, will have to perform more convincingly than this in their remaining fixtures. Not that Real Madrid will be spending the type of money they spent on Cristiano Ronaldo on the Welshman if they had scouts present here.

"I don't know if that was a point gained or two dropped," André Villas-Boas said. "It depends on Sunday's results. Credit to Wigan for the way they played but the result was on the edge for both teams." It felt like two points dropped for Wigan – even the normally effervescent Roberto Martínez came close to being rueful.

"When you are down at the bottom the breaks don't go your way. Apart from conceding an unlucky goal so late it puts extra salt in the wound when you know it shouldn't even have been a free-kick," the Wigan manager said of Jean Beausejour's foul on Kyle Walker. "We deserved a little more than that after giving Spurs an early lead, then coming back so well. In the second half I couldn't see them scoring from open play."

The last thing a team in Wigan's position needed was to concede a comedy goal after nine minutes. Culpably unhurried defending by Maynor Figueroa and Joel Robles managed to present Spurs with just such a gift, and when a ludicrous second back pass from the defender was followed by an even more casual attempted clearance by the goalkeeper, Bale needed only to stick out a hopeful boot to pick up his 24th goal of the season.

"Believe" has been the buzzword at Wigan for the past couple of seasons, but many supporters reacted with freely articulated disbelief at such a shambolic opening. Wigan's players are made of stronger stuff, however, nerves doubtless steeled by years of peering over the cliff edge, and they were level within two minutes when Boyce made a captain's contribution by getting a firm header to Shaun Maloney's corner.

The game lost Figueroa and Mousa Dembélé to injury before the interval – the Honduran with a groin strain likely to rule him out of the FA Cup final, by which stage it was an even contest. Arouna Koné put Wigan's best effort of the first half narrowly over the bar after a run by Jordi Gómez, and Bale might have scored again on the break but headed too high from Kyle Naughton's searching cross.

Wigan were conspicuously the hungrier at the start of the second half, snapping into tackles and closing down space as if Martínez had spent the interval reminding them that they could not afford to open the second period as dozily as they had the first.

Their reward came almost instantly after four minutes, during which Spurs had barely managed to get hold of the ball, with Callum McManaman once more underlining his potential with a quite stunning first Premier League goal. Koné fed a pass along the edge of the penalty area for McManaman to collect and step inside Naughton, before thumping a shot past Hugo Lloris from inside the box.

That turned out to be McManaman's last significant action. Martínez sent on Franco Di Santo for the last half hour, possibly keen to keep up the attacking pressure and prevent his side sitting on their lead and defending too deep. Spurs, it must be said, showed little imagination or verve in trying to break down Wigan in the second half. Bale was not having one of his barnstorming games and Jermain Defoe became increasingly isolated. Villas-Boas sent on Aaron Lennon to inject pace but it was hardly the best augury when Michael Dawson's first attempt to find him on the right wing missed by a mile.

Wigan might have scored a third when Koné skipped easily past Dawson, only to see Lloris keep out his shot. The incident seemed to rattle the Spurs captain, who was booked for his next challenge on the Ivorian striker and could easily have received a second card for the one after that. It appeared all Wigan had to do was hang on, although in the four minutes of added time after the late equaliser, Spurs played their best football and made enough chances to win the game.

A Bale free-kick produced a save from Robles and mayhem in the penalty area. A Spurs winner then would have been cruel. "We are not beaten yet," Martínez said. "There are 12 points to fight for, and while it might come down to our game against Aston Villa on the last day, I still think other teams could be involved."