They could not have asked for a better start as Sean Maguire gave them the lead inside the opening 90 seconds.
North End went on to have much the better of the first half and had the chances to add to Maguire's early goal.
In fact Cardiff offered little in the first 45 minutes, bar one header which went wide.
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The second half was so different, the Bluebirds looking a different side and North End unable to cope with that.
Two set piece goals in the space of 15 minutes turned the contest on its head, Mark McGuinness equalising after connecting with a free-kick and then substitute James Collins looped home a header from a corner.
There was plenty of time left for PNE to get back into the game but their attacking play lacked imagination and creativity.
Cardiff were content to let them have the ball and invited North End to try and breakdown their blue wall, something the home side couldn't do.
Disappointing there weren't even any close calls to give them hope as the three points disappeared back to South Wales.
North End's starting XI had shown four changes to the side beaten at Nottingham Forest before the international break.
Maguire, Alan Browne, Ryan Ledson and Greg Cunningham were drafted into the side, Ben Whiteman (suspended), Daniel Johnson, Josh Earl and Brad Potts dropping out.
They made a high tempo start, it rewarded with an early goal.
With just 28 seconds on the clock, Ledson's pass played Emil Riis into space down the right channel. The Dane took the ball into the box and tried to work himself into a shooting position.
With his path blocked, he laid it off to Ali McCann who saw his low shot from the edge of the box deflected for a corner.
That corner was defended and the ball went out for a flag kick on the other side.
Ledson's delivery was flicked on across the six-yard box and Maguire got himself between the keeper and a defender to hook the ball home from close range,.
Attempting to build on the early goal, Tom Barkhuizen saw a shot blocked in the box after getting on the end of a Maguire lay-off.
Andrew Hughes put a free-kick too close to keeper Alex Smithies who gathered comfortably, a foul by Aden Flint on Maguire having seen the free-kick given.
Cardiff's one chance of the first half saw Flint head wide at the far post from a deep cross from the left-wing.
A couple of chances fell the way of Riis before the half-hour mark.
The first was a low shot which went through a defender's legs and straight at Smithies, the second when Browne's curling shot from the edge of the box clipped a defender and looped up towards the far post.
Riis jumped with Smithies to win it in the air but sent his header over the bar.
Cardiff made a half-time substitution, Collins replacing Chanka Zimba up front.
Former Luton man Collins had an early sight of goal in the second half, his low shot from the edge of the box going wide of the far post.
Will Vaulks slammed a low drive across goal and saw it come back off the far post, that a warning not heeded as Cardiff pulled level in the 51st minute.
A free-kick was delivered in from the right channel, McGuinness escaping the attentions of the PNE defence to head past Daniel Iversen from inside the six-yard box.
North End came close to regaining the lead in the 58th minute, Ledson's shot pushed past the post by Smithies diving to his right.
It needed a fine sliding tackle from Sepp van den Berg to deny substitute Mark Harris who had burst down the right hand side of the box.
However, there was no one to stop Collins giving the visitors the lead in the 66th minute.
Ryan Giles swung in a corner from the right which Collins got up to meet and loop a header into the net.
North End had to chase the game from there and saw plenty of the ball. However, their lack of imagination in trying to find the gaps in Cardiff's blue wall was clear.
They created nothing in terms of gilt-edged chances as they pushed forward, the visitors looking well organised and happy to attack on the break is the chance presented itself.
PNE: Iversen, van den Berg, Bauer, Hughes, Barkhuizen, McCann, Ledson (Sinclair 68), Browne, Cunningham (Earl 68), Maguire (Johnson 77), Riis. Subs (not used): Hudson, Lindsay, Storey, Potts.
Cardiff: Smithies, McGuinness, Flint, Nelson, Ng, Pack, Vaulks, Giles, Colwill (Bacuna 87), Davies (Harris 62), Zimba (Collins 46). Subs (not used): Philips, Morrison, Sang, Brown.
Referee: Leigh Doughty (Lancashire)
Attendance: 10,749 (927 away)
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