Everton had goalscorer Lee Carsley sent off but still had enough grit to advance to the Carling Cup's last 16.
Carsley had a game of mixed fortunes
Carsley had curled a free kick home to put Everton ahead but was then dismissed after he left substitute Eric Skora pole-axed in the penalty area.
But Preston could not take advantage of their numerical superiority.
And substitute Marcus Bent scored with his first touch to seal Everton's victory, drilling the ball home after good work by Leon Osman on the right.
A poor first-half provided no idea of the drama that was to unfold after the interval.
On 52 minutes Osman was flattened on the edge of the box as he ran into Claude
Davis' arm and from the free-kick Carsley's swerving delivery saw Gavin Ward
only palm the ball it into the net as he scrambled across his goal.
Preston refused to let their heads drop and redoubled their attacking efforts.
Youl Mawene thought he had equalised on 67 minutes when he netted from close
range after the ball broke to him in the box, but a assistant referee's flag
ruled out the effort.
Richard Wright then had to dive full length to push away a David
Healy drive as Preston continued to press.
Everton were clinging on and after Carsley appeared to flatten substitute Skora with his elbow the Republic of Ireland midfielder was sent off.
Yet even with 10 men Everton held off Preston's efforts to equalise and with three minutes left Bent wrapped up the win.
Everton: Wright, Hibbert, Yobo, Weir, Pistone, Watson, Carsley,
Kilbane, McFadden (Cahill 90), Osman, Ferguson (Bent 89).
Subs Not Used: Campbell, Gravesen, Turner.
Sent Off: Carsley (72).
Goals: Carsley 52, Bent 89.
Preston: Ward, Mawene, Lucketti, Davis (Skora 66),
Alexander (Jackson 83), McKenna, Etuhu, O'Neil,
Smith (Daley 77), Healy, Cresswell.
Subs Not Used: Lynch, Gould.
Ref: A Marriner (W Midlands).