Zabaleta celebrates his goal - his first since joining Manchester City
Pablo Zabaleta's strike gave 10-man Manchester City a battling victory over Wigan after Richard Dunne was sent off.
City dominated early on with Robinho missing when clean through and having another shot cleared off the line.
Zabaleta did find the net on 53 minutes with a powerful effort but straight from the restart City captain Dunne was sent off for kicking out at Amir Zaki.
Wigan poured forward but Zaki missed an open goal when he headed over and they could not make their pressure count.
Unsurprisingly, the build-up to this match had been dominated by the potential arrival of AC Milan superstar Kaka at City for a fee that could top the £100m mark.
But, given their present position just above the Premier League relegation zone, City could ill-afford to be distracted by the speculation, especially for the visit of in-form Wigan, who they had not beaten in eight previous top-flight meetings since 2002.
So it must have been a relief for City boss Mark Hughes to see his side show such character, especially given Dunne's dismissal and a shortage of midfielders that saw Zabaleta forced to start in an unfamiliar position in the centre of the pitch.
Wigan had the first effort on goal when Titus Bramble's header flew inches over but the home team dominated the rest of the first half with Kaka's Brazilian compatriots Elano and Robinho playing a central role.
Elano has had an unhappy time since Hughes took charge in the summer and at one stage looked like he would be leaving the club this month.
But he was City's main creative force here, and with better finishing by Robinho, they would have been two goals up by the interval.
Hughes applauds battling City
Robinho's first chance came courtesy of a superbly chipped ball by Elano but, under pressure from Paul Scharner, he scuffed his shot horribly wide.
The duo linked up again soon afterwards when a slipped pass sent Robinho clear but, although he found the target this time, Bramble got back to volley his clever chip off the line.
Wigan were by no means being outplayed but they were far less threatening in front of goal and a couple of long-range efforts by Tottenham target Wilson Palacios were the best they could muster before the break.
In fact, the visitors' best spell came just before they went behind - but the game quickly took on a different complexion following Zabaleta's powerful strike, his first goal for the club
The Argentine defender buried the ball into the top corner when Scharner could only clear Daniel Sturridge's cross to his feet on the edge of the box.
Immediately afterwards, Zaki and Dunne clashed as they challenged for a high ball and, with both players still grounded, the City captain kicked out at the Egyptian and was immediately dismissed.
We were hard done by - Bruce
Dunne felt Zaki had caught him with an elbow - and the Wigan striker made a meal of his reaction - but referee Lee Mason had no choice but to brandish a red card.
That left City with more than 30 minutes to hold out against a Wigan team that came forward relentlessly and created a host of chances.
The ball was constantly hoisted into the home penalty area but, thanks to a combination of luck, determined defending and poor finishing, Hughes' men held out.
Wigan's best chance fell to Zaki, when Lee Cattermole's deflected header came back against the bar, but, from six yards out and with the goal at his mercy, he nodded the ball over.
Scharner had a header cleared off the line by Elano and Cattermole could also have had a penalty when he was caught by Zabaleta but Mason waved play on.
Steve Bruce will feel his side deserved at least a point, especially after dominating the closing stages, but Hughes can argue his side earned victory the hard way.
Manchester City manager Mark Hughes: "We had to dig in and show our resilience.
"We kept a very good Wigan side down to very few clear-cut chances and that was down to our determination to win.
"I didn't expect Pablo Zabaleta to score but it was a great finish and capped a great performance by him."
Wigan boss Steve Bruce on Amir Zaki's miss: "It was arguably the miss of the season. It was harder to miss it than score.
"But we played very well and threw everything at them.
"For effort and endeavour we deserved something. We were unfortunate - we came roaring back after looking a bid jaded in the first half."
Man City: Hart, Zabaleta, Onuoha, Dunne, Richards, Bridge, Wright-Phillips, Kompany, Elano, Robinho, Sturridge (Garrido 62).
Subs Not Used: Schmeichel, Vassell, Jo, Fernandes, Caicedo, Weiss.
Sent Off: Dunne (54).
Goals: Zabaleta 53.
Wigan: Kirkland, Melchiot, Bramble (Camara 87), Scharner, Figueroa (Kapo 74), Valencia, Palacios, Cattermole, Taylor (De Ridder 58), Heskey, Zaki.
Subs Not Used: Kingson, Edman, Brown, Boyce.
Booked: Cattermole, Bramble, Palacios, Kirkland.
Ref: Lee Mason (Lancashire).
BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Manchester City's Robinho 8.24 (on 90 minutes).
Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport's Player Rater after the match has finished.
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