Jon Parkin bagged a deadly double for 10-man Preston as Cardiff's Coca-Cola Championship's promotion hopes were dealt a crushing blow.
The burly striker, nicknamed 'The Beast' due to his imposing 6ft 4in frame, opened the scoring with a penalty in the 30th minute and then showed delightful footwork to rifle home number two nine minutes after the break.
Parkin's second goal came just moments after North End midfielder Paul Coutts was shown his second yellow card.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, Preston added a third in the 86th minute when substitute Chris Brown lobbed home a brilliant effort.
Cardiff were thumped 6-0 on this ground last April, a morale-sapping loss which kickstarted a slide in their fortunes as Preston pipped them to the sixth and final play-off spot on the last day of the season.
Yet Darren Ferguson's men have looked more like relegation candidates in recent weeks, so this emphatic victory, in which Parkin was outstanding as he took his season tally to 12, was important for their self-belief.
Preston were missing on-loan Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck due to a knee injury but they carved out decent opportunities which were spurned by wingers Ross Wallace and Keith Treacy.
Both players failed to hit the target when well placed but Preston opened the scoring in the 30th minute when Bluebirds defender Paul Quinn needlessly shoved Wallace off the ball.
Referee Andy Hall consulted his assistant and a spot-kick was awarded which Parkin dispatched with a low right-foot shot into the bottom left-hand corner.
Curiously, Quinn escaped so much as a booking and Cardiff survived again in the 40th minute when Neil Mellor sidefooted home a low cross from Treacy, only for the strike to be ruled out for offside.
The misfiring Bluebirds almost responded on the stroke of half-time as Preston goalkeeper Andy Lonergan was forced into a low save to repel Cardiff skipper Jay Bothroyd's low strike from 20 yards.
Cardiff midfielder Gavin Rae drove a thunderous 20-yard shot wide in the 49th minute but tensions soon began to mount.
Coutts, having been booked on the stroke of half-time, was given his marching orders seven minutes after the restart when he fouled Chris Burke and was shown his second yellow card.
Two minutes later, Parkin sealed victory for his depleted side when he collected possession inside the 18-yard box and showed fine skill to turn Anthony Gerrard and drill a low right-foot shot past Peter Enckelman.
Parkin, 28, came agonisingly close to completing his hat-trick shortly before the hour mark when he again outfoxed the visiting defence with some clever footwork before curling a shot onto the far post with Enckelman a mere spectator.
Cardiff continued to probe but they could create only half-chances and their frustrations began to get the better of them as the game wore on.
Quinn, Burke, Kevin McNaughton and Michael Chopra were all booked and their misery was complete in the 86th minute when Brown capitalised on a mistake by Enckelman and chipped the ball over the Finnish stopper from a tight angle.
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