Joe Garner came off the bench to score a second-half hat-trick and end Town’s FA Cup hopes at the third round stage.
After a first-half short on chances, the game burst into life soon after the restart, Frank Nouble capitalising on a mistake by Declan Rudd to put Town ahead.
Garner then came off the bench to turn the game on its head, firing in from a corner then arrowing a left foot finish past Scott Loach.
David McGoldrick also made an instant impact after joining the action, heading an equaliser before Garner won it for the home side three minutes from time.
With Town missing four regulars through injury, Academy scholars Matt Clarke, Byron Lawrence and Kyle Hammond were all named on the bench, alongside one of their coaches, Alan Lee.
Stephen Hunt, one of a number of changes from the side that went down against QPR at the weekend, forced an early corner with a surging run down the flank, Nouble then testing Rudd with a header at the near post from Paul Anderson’s cross.
Ryan Tunnicliffe found Nouble with an astute pass inside Keith Keane, the cross came to nothing though as the Lilywhites outnumbered the supporting Anderson in the box.
Chris Humphrey got around the back for the home side in their first real attack of note, Christophe Berra doing enough to see out the danger in an even first 15 minutes.
Tunnicliffe, prominent in the early play, couldn’t keep his volley down from the edge of the box from Hunt’s corner, while at the other end Paul Gallagher’s dangerous free-kick was cleared by Carlos Edwards.
Humphrey was providing an attacking threat down the right flank for Preston and it needed the alertness of Berra to cut out his cross after the wideman had linked up well with Gallagher.
Nouble’s shot was deflected for a corner after neat work by Hunt, then Neil Kilkenny’s excellent pass released Humphrey but his cross was too high for Kevin Davies as the first-half came to an end with both ‘keepers rarely threatened.
Will Hayhurst was booked for a foul on Tyrone Mings as the second-half got underway, the Town defender receiving lengthy treatment after being caught late.
Town got the breakthrough on 56 minutes and it came out of nothing. Rudd tried to stop the ball going out for a corner but spilt it and Nouble took full advantage, blasting the ball in from close range.
Tunnicliffe’s passing from deep was stretching the Preston backline and Rudd had to be quick off his line to stop Anderson getting in.
Preston were level though on 67 minutes when substitute Garner, who only joined the action five minutes earlier, forced the ball in from six yards out following on a corner.
A minute later, Simon Grayson’s side were ahead, Davies found Garner with a flick on and the substitute buried a left foot shot past Loach.
Berra was yellow carded for a foul on Garner before Town made a double change for the last 20 minutes, Paul Taylor on for Anderson and McGoldrick for Jay Tabb and with his first touch McGoldrick headed Blues level from Edwards’ cross.
Hunt came to Town’s rescue with a tackle on Garner inside the penalty area, the Republic of Ireland international then almost getting on the end of Nouble’s cross.
Luke Hyam became the second Town player to go into referee Keith Stroud’s book, Loach then getting down well to save from Kilkenny.
Garner came up trumps for the home side again though with three minutes left on the clock, the super sub spinning away from Tunnicliffe and burying a left foot strike past Loach.
McGoldrick was booked for diving when it looked as though he had been fouled on the edge of the Preston box, Mings also yellow carded. Mick McCarthy threw on Lee for the six minutes of added on time but Blues couldn’t find an equaliser as the hosts set up a visit to Nottingham Forest in the fourth round.