WHEN does a disappointing run to start the year become a poor one? Probably after struggling to overcome a Wigan Athletic side occupying a place in the Championship’s relegation zone.

This was not a particularly great night for Middlesbrough or the Latics in cold and blustery conditions, but at least Jonathan Woodgate’s men didn’t slip to another defeat when referee Oliver Langford’s decisions could have led to anything.

Middlesbrough are now winless in eight in all competitions – including the Tottenham double header in the FA Cup - and they had the perfect chance to collect three points for the first time since New Year’s Day here.

Having fallen behind to Samy Morsy’s finish just before the half hour mark, Middlesbrough managed to wriggle themselves level and in front courtesy of two Lewis Wing distance drives inside four second half minutes.

Given Wigan had lost defender Chey Dunkley to a red card in the build up to Wing striking that first free-kick in the 64th minute, Middlesbrough should then have been able to wrap things up pretty smoothly.

But Wigan, incensed by so many decisions from referee Oliver Langford who also dubiously ruled out a first half Ashley Fletcher goal and booked 11 players, managed to battle back to earn a point when Middlesbrough’s January recruit Harold Moukoudi headed into his own net with 14 minutes remaining.

This was not at the level Woodgate has demanded from his players, but on a strange night at least they can head into Saturday’s visit of bottom club Luton Town having preserved a seven-point cushion to the bottom three.

Even if Middlesbrough’s players have spoken of an intention to look up the table rather than down, the prospect of playing the three occupants of the relegation zone in quick succession has raised the idea of being dragged back into trouble.

Before the dates with Luton and Barnsley, though, the trip to Wigan represented an opportunity to ease any such fears after a tricky run without a win since New Year’s Day, even though there have been positives during that slump.

Those were not enough to prevent Woodgate from tinkering again. After Saturday’s impressive debut for Moukoudi at the heart of a back four, the other deadline day recruit, Ravel Morrison, was handed his first appearance this time.

Morrison, lining up behind Fletcher and Britt Assombalonga, looked hungry to get on the ball and make an impact but it was Wigan who started the brightest. Midfielder Joe Williams forced Aynsley Pears into an early save to suggest Middlesbrough would not have it all their own way.

Even though Wigan regularly attacked down the flanks and looked neat and tidy in possession, Middlesbrough settled and looked more dangerous as the half developed. Fletcher would have put the visitors ahead too, but the flag went up for offside when he hammered Jonny Howson’s fine cross in off the underside of the bar just after quarter of an hour.

There were regular danger signs down Middlesbrough’s right, with Michael Jacobs and former Hartlepool loan man Kal Naismith regularly getting to the byline. When Jacobs, asked to play further forward than the weekend, rolled a pass into the area on 29 minutes it led to the opener.

Wigan skipper Morsy was allowed to control and turn just inside the box, taking out two defenders in the process, and his low drive went through a crowded area and nestled inside Pears’ left-hand post.

Woodgate had hoped pairing Assombalonga, starting for the first time since sustained injury on December 7, with Fletcher in attack would bring attacking rewards, particularly with Morrison in behind; chances were few and far between.

The nearest they came to scoring was when Hayden Coulson struck an effort from distance a yard over the bar, and then Assombalonga headed tamely into goalkeeper David Marshall from Morrison’s little clip into the area.

Wigan were also quickest out of the blocks after the restart and their bench were up in arms when referee Langford waved play on when Williams appeared to flick the ball up onto the arm of Moukoudi in the area. A penalty would have been harsh.

More frustration was to come for Wigan boss Paul Cook. When Moukoudi was only cautioned for bringing down Kieffer Moore, the criticism grew and the home side had lost their way. It was all about whether Middlesbrough could capitalise and they could.

Morrison was first to hammer an effort towards goal that deflected wide, but when Dunkley picked up his second yellow card for tripping Wing deep in the final third Middlesbrough had the chance they craved.

Wing, fresh from scoring at Brentford, powered in the dead ball from 25 yards and it ended up in the back of the net after changing direction by hitting the wall.

And less than four minutes later the former non-league man hit his second from range. This time things opened up for him and he had a crack at goal which swirled in the wind and embarrassed Marshall.

At that point Middlesbrough should have seen the game out with the extra man, but a spirited Wigan dug in and when Byrne whipped in a lovely cross in the 76th minute Moukoudi was the unfortunate man to head high and into his own net. That was how it remained.