The Lilywhites skipper lifted the ball into the net from a tight angle a minute into time added on at the end of the first period, that his third goal of the season.
It was not the most memorable of games, North End's first visit to the Pirelli Stadium not one to live long in the memory.
Burton did not have a shot on target all game, the visitors' organisation having to be applauded even if they did lack attacking flair at times.
They played far better against Sheffield Wednesday on New Year's Eve, however it is points in the bag which count and this put them back on the winning track.
Simon Grayson had made four changes to the side which drew against Wednesday, the PNE boss mindful of the need for freshness to cover the quick turnaround.
Bailey Wright, Alan Browne, Eoin Doyle and Jordan Hugill came into the starting XI, with Paul Gallagher, Aiden McGeady and Simon Makienok moving to the bench - Alex Baptiste not involved in the match-day squad.
Tom Barkhuizen was named on the bench after his move from Morecambe became official on Sunday, but Irish pair Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle were not included.
North End started in a 4-3-3 system, Doyle and Callum Robinson playing either side of striker Hugill, with Ben Pearson, Browne and Daniel Johnson spread across midfield.
Clarke was at right-back, with Wright partnering Paul Huntington in the centre of defence.
The first half was a poor spectacle, neither side getting to grips with the game and it was littered with mistakes
An early run from Doyle which saw him cut inside from the right-wing, ended with his low shot being blocked in the box.
Johnson cleared away Matty Palmer's corner which had dropped across the box towards the far post without anyone getting a touch.
A shot on the turn from Chris O'Grady was blocked by Huntington's sliding challenge, then soon after, Wright got in a timely clearance to hook an O'Grady cross away from Jamie Ward in the box.
Thoughts were turning to the half-time tea when Preston broke the stalemate.
Robinson found space down the left channel, turned inside and sent over a cross which dropped over Doyle and appeared to be running out of play.
But Clarke sneaked in beyond the far post on the side of the six-yard box and lifted a shot over Albion goalkeeper John McLaughlin from a tight angle.
The first chance of the second half fell to the home side, Lucas Akins lifting a first-time shot high over the bar after substitute Marvin Sordell had pulled the ball into his path from the right-wing.
In terms of action, the early stages of the second half followed that of the first, with quality in short supply.
North End had a sight of goal in the 62nd minute, Johnson lifting a free-kick into the box which Doyle met with a flicked header, one which the keeper gathered.
Johnson's diagonal pass found Hugill on the edge of the box, the striker chesting the ball down but dragging his shot wide of the near post.
With 71 minutes on the clock, a stray pass in the Burton midfield was picked up by Johnson who moved forward being slipping a pass on the outside to Robinson who moved into the box and hit a powerful shot which McLaughlin dived to tip over the bar.
Grayson made a double substitution 12 minutes from time, McGeady and Gallagher replacing Doyle and Robinson.
Soon after, North End had a great chance to stretch their lead, Greg Cunningham breaking down the left and standing a fine cross up to the far post which Hugill headed wide from six yards.
Cunningham was involved in the action at the other end, clearing Palmer's cross out of the six yard box as Tom Naylor closed in.
PNE saw out the game without too many scares, managing the closing minutes very well.
Burton: McLaughlin, Mousinho (Choudhary 79), McFadzean, McCrory, Akins, Irvine, Naylor, Palmer, Dyer, O'Grady (Sordell 46), Ward (Harness 69), Subs (not used): Flanagan, Williamson, Barker, Bywater.
PNE: Maxwell, Clarke, Wright, Huntington, Cunningham, Robinson (Gallagher 78), Pearson, Browne, Johnson, Doyle (McGeady 78), Hugill (Makienok 90). Subs (not used): Spurr, Pringle, Barkhuizen, Lindegaard.
Referee: Oliver Langford (West Midlands)
Attendance: 5,144 (1,600 PNE)