Carlton Cole's first-half goal was enough to win a lively encounter at the JJB Stadium on Wednesday as both teams had players sent off.
The visitors opened the scoring just after the half-hour mark when Cole finished a slick passing move, before being controversially sent off minutes later for a second bookable offence. The game finished with ten on each side as Lee Cattermole was dismissed for a challenge from behind on Scott Parker shortly after half-time.
Gianfranco Zola was forced into one change from the team that won 1-0 against Manchester City, with Valon Behrami away in Italy having his knee injury assessed, Mark Noble returned from a one-match suspension to take his place, with teenagers Josh Payne, Junior Stanislas, Freddie Sears and Savio again among the substitutes. Wigan Athletic welcomed back Antonio Valencia and Mido from the side that had lost to a last-minute goal at Chelsea.
Wigan started brightly and forced Robert Green into early action as two free-kicks from near identical positions 25 yards from goal threatened. The first, on eleven minutes, from Egyptian striker Amr Zaki had to be helped on its way over the crossbar, before Mido forced the England shot-stopper to palm another set piece around the post five minutes later.
United then gave the home side a warning of what was to come as good play between Noble and Jack Collison saw the Wales midfielder thread the ball through for Cole to chase. He beat Titus Bramble for pace but Chris Kirkland came out to close him down well and the chance was gone.
Noble was the first player to be cautioned after catching Lee Cattermole with a late tackle and then Cole followed his team-mate soon after for a sliding tackle on Cattermole's central midfield partner Michael Brown.
The game then exploded into life in a frantic five-minute spell, which started with the Hammers taking the lead on 34 minutes with a sublime, one-touch passing move. Di Michele played a one-two with Noble before flicking the ball to Cole and the England striker made no mistake with a superb right-footed finish low into the net.
Two minutes later Parker became the third West Ham player to be cautioned in the first half after catching Brown with a high tackle, before Cole was dismissed after referee Stuart Attwell adjudged him to have caught Emerson Boyce with a high foot. The half-time break soon arrived and with it a chance for the teams to regain their composure as the manner of Cole's dismissal seemed to rile both sets of players.
The interval was clearly not enough for Cattermole as seven minutes after returning to the pitch he was dismissed after his coming together with Parker. Consequentially Attwell elected to call both sets of captains over for a talk in an effort to cool the simmering tensions.
It had the desired impact on the mood, although Antonio Valencia was shown a yellow card for bringing down Herita Ilunga. Wigan manager Steve Bruce made his first two changes by bringing on Hugo Rodallega and Paul Scharner for Brown and Zaki.
Chances were few and far between as the real action was going on in midfield, with both teams demonstrating their commitment to edging ahead of their opponents in the battle for a European place. Radolsav Kovac, in particular, was dominant in the air and on the floor to help keep the Hammers on top.
Zola made his first change with 14 minutes to go by bringing on Savio for Di Michele - who had worked tirelessly to cover for Cole's departure - before being forced to replace Collison with Jonathan Spector after the midfielder went down with what looked like a knee injury.
There was still time for the late addition of Walter Lopez for the ever-impressive Parker and a booking for substitute Savio in a game full of high drama and incident.
The result will surely be a significant boost to Zola and his team as they look to cement seventh place in league table - and with it the possibility of a UEFA Europa League spot next season. And no doubt they will be looking to make it three Premier League wins on the spin when West Bromwich Albion visit the Boleyn Ground a week on Monday.