The U's fifth clean sheet in eight games helped them onto their way to another massive victory in their quest for promotion.
With Leeds and Norwich both failing to win at home, the U's knew there was a chance to move even closer to the top two and they moved to just a point behind the Yorkshire side thanks to Danny Batth's first goal for the club.
Another superb performance by Ben Williams proved crucial, as the stopper pulled off a string of fine saves as the visitors threatened an equaliser.
And the U's resisted that pressure to firmly establish themselves as a genuine threat as the season entered its final third.
The U's were forced into a number of changes, with Magnus Okuonghae and Kayode Odejayi missing through injury.
The club captain was missing after hurting his shoulder in training on Friday, whilst Odejayi failed a fitness test on his injured knee on Saturday morning.
John White was also absent from the U's side for family reasons, so it was something of a reshuffled side as Phil Ifil, Danny Batth and Steven Gillespie came into the starting eleven.
Ashley Vincent was also named in a home matchday squad for the first time since August after recovering from his ankle injury.
Whilst the U's had the first sight of goal with an O'Toole header, the Latics started brightly and had a number of corners to pin the U's back.
But the home side responded well and had a penalty shout on six minutes as Gillespie's flicked header seemed to hit Gregan's hand, but the referee waved away U's appeals from on and off the pitch.
They nearly got their noses in front with thirteen minutes on the clock. A lovely ball forward from Prutton sent Gillespie in on goal and, as the keeper rushed out to him, his sidefoot finish was blocked when it seemed he was destined to score.
For the visitors, Price had been showing his frustration at decisions not going his way and he got a talking to on the quarter hour mark after one moan to many at the match official.
But the striker almost provided himself with the perfect pick-me-up as he glanced a header from twelve yards against the post as Williams dived full length to try to get to it.
The U's were looking dangerous, though, and almost broke a resilient Latics back line midway through the half as Wordsworth's bursting run saw him slide the ball to Gillespie, only for it to be intercepted at the crucial moment.
Chances were at a premium though and a Platt flick on 37 minutes might have caused the keeper more problems had the striker got a fuller connection on it, instead of trying to help it into another U's player's path.
The U's were getting frustrated at the officials' decisions against them, with Platt feeling particularly hard done by as he was repeatedly pulled up for aerial challenges in the box.
Level at the break, the U's almost got their noses in front not long after the restart. Gillespie escaped down the right and sent over a dangerous cross that skidded across the six yard box and away to safety.
They were on the front foot from the restart, but were left worried by a Latics free kick that dropped into the six yard box for Williams to snaffle up at the key moment.
Whilst the ball wasn't always breaking in the U's favour, their persistence was winning them the advantage in terms of possession and territory.
But they had to be wary of the threat of the visitors, with Batth pulling off one excellent tackle as Abbott bore down on goal.
From the resulting corner, the ball was thrown back into the danger area for Price to knock down, and Abbott seemed destined to score, before Williams pulled off a superb stop to block the ball.
Prutton went into the book for a foul on Taylor before sending over a dangerous cross that Wordsworth turned back towards goal with a shot that just eluded Gillespie's effort to poke the ball home.
Williams then pulled off a relatively easy stop from a Latics free kick, and that save proved crucial as the U's grabbed a rare goal from a corner.
It was a Prutton set piece from the Latics right and, as he curled it to the near post, Batth was on hand to nod home as Brill flapped at the cross.
Williams then pulled off two superb stops from Abbott.
Firstly, the forward got in around the back. It looked like the keeper had committed early, but he still stopped the shot.
Then, as substitute Colbeck got in down the right hand side, his low cross was flicked towards goal, only for the keeper to dive well and block his effort.
The Latics had responded well to going behind and, looking to build on the home side's advantage, the U's replaced Gillespie with the fresh legs of Lisbie for the final fifteen minutes of the match.
Some patient U's play with twelve minutes remaining saw Ifil loft a beautiful pass just too long for Platt.
Then the Latics did well to break on goal, with Colbeck forcing another fine save out of Williams and Tierney blocking the follow-up shot.
The clock was running down slowly for the U's, and a Price shot on the turn looped off a U's defender and agonisingly onto the crossbar with Williams unable to do much about it.
The U's were looking nervous as the final whistle approached, and the three minutes of additional time wouldn't have helped frayed nerves on and off the pitch.
But they saw that off without too many problems to record another huge three points as the promotion race took another twist.