Hosts Wigan were one of the sides on PNE’s tail in the Second Division promotion race but the 1-0 victory helped shake them off.
Michael Jackson scored the contest’s only goal in the 17th minute and it was a rather spectacular one too.
The centre-half hooked a shot over his shoulder and over Wigan goalkeeper Roy Carroll after a mistake in the home defence.
Jackson proved to be PNE’s bloodied hero, ending the game with his white shirt covered in claret after he had taken a kick in the face.
The build-up to the winner started with a free-kick from Paul McKenna which struck the wall and bounced out for a corner.
McKenna claimed – and with good reason – that it had struck an arm in the wall.
Rob Edwards and Bjarki Gunnlaugsson worked the corner short, with Edwards sending a cross into the box.
Wigan striker Neil Roberts got his angles all wrong when trying to head clear, putting the ball across goal into the six-yard box.
Jackson was first to react, hooking a shot over Carroll into the net.
Off he went to celebrate with the travelling fans who filled one side of the ground.
Preston skipper Sean Gregan met a Graham Alexander free-kick but headed over, while there were chances too for Gunnlaugsson, Iain Anderson and Mark Rankine.
Before half-time, North End keeper Teuvo Moilanen pushed Simon Haworth’s shot behind, then tipped a header from Arjan de Zeeuw over the bar from the corner.
The second half saw PNE try to extend their lead but without leaving gaps at the back.
Jon Macken put a shot too close to the keeper from a good position which would have saved a nervous finish.
As it was, North End held on and the promotion push gathered a great deal of speed as a result. Promotion and the title came 20 days later for David Moyes’ men.