Latics started well and Jack Whatmough had a shot diverted behind for a corner, before the big centre-back suffered a worrying leg injury.
After soldiering on, Whatmough then slipped on halfway, and was glad to see Preston forward Emil Riis fire the ball wide of the far post - and just in front of colleague Robbie Brady.
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Sadly, Whatmough was unable to continue, with Jason Kerr taking his place.
North End ended the half on top and only Ben Amos prevented them taking an interval lead.
First, the Latics goalkeeper denied Troy Parrott, before tipping over the rebound from Riis, who thought he was a certain scorer.
Latics escaped again from the resulting corner, with Riis flicking the ball on to the bar and over.
Having got to half-time safely, Latics pushed hard again at the start of the second period, and Kerr was only denied by desperate defending after Josh Magenis had flicked a Max Power cross back inside.
Preston threatened when new signing Troy Parrott, on the shoulder of the last defender, got his shot away, only to see it roll wide of the far post.
But the visitors were left facing an anxious last 10 minutes when, eight minutes after entering the field, substitute Ched Evas was sent off.
The striker's lunge on a grounded Curtis Tilt was ugly, late and dangerous, and the Latics man was desperately fortunate not to sustain a serious injury as he took two
lots of studs in the chest.
There was still time for Latics to push for the win, with captain Tenndayi Darikwa denied right at the death as his shot was diverted just over the bar.