Charles N'Zogbia proved the difference as Wigan staged a late fightback to reach the Carling Cup fourth round at plucky Preston's expense.
Just weeks after looking to have played his last game for the club, the Frenchman sparked a second-half revival that he capped with the winning goal injury time.
"It is quite clear the talent Charles has got," said Latics boss Roberto Martinez. "The way he has acted since the window has closed has been an example for everyone."
Wigan had trailed since the 23rd minute at the DW Stadium when Keith Treacy drilled home a low free-kick from the edge of the area for the npower Championship visitors.
It could have got worse as Paul Coutts twice hit the woodwork but the Barclays Premier League side recovered and finally got back into the game when Jordi Gomez struck on 87 minutes.
Extra-time then loomed but dangerous substitute N'Zogbia, reinvigorated after a move to Birmingham collapsed over personal terms last month, broke from deep, played a one-two with James McCarthy and blasted the winner.
Martinez added: "He has talent and many would pay money to watch him play football. More importantly he worked for the team extremely hard and, with his build-up towards the game, his day has been sensational."
Preston boss Darren Ferguson claimed his team should have resorted to dirty tricks to stop N'Zogbia.
Ferguson would have had no qualms had midfielder Danny Mayor crudely taken down the Wigan winger in full flow.
Ferguson said: "The second goal was so naive it was incredible. All Danny has got to do is bring the lad down. We can see what is going to go on and as soon as he didn't do that, they were in. Both goals were stoppable. Individual mistakes cost us the game."
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