Preston manager Phil Brown insisted there was no shame in winning ugly after Jamie Proctor's strike edged out Exeter 1-0.
Exeter should have been behind in the 23rd minute when Steve Tully was sent off for bringing down Neil Mellor inside the box, but Graham Alexander saw his penalty saved by Artur Krysiak.
The Polish goalkeeper was beaten four minutes before the break though when Proctor headed in Paul Parry's free-kick to condemn Exeter to a third defeat on the spin.
"It's a great result, but not the best of performances, but we have to learn to lump over the line when we're not at our best," said Brown.
"If we had done that against Scunthorpe we'd be sitting here with three clean sheets and three back-to-back wins and nine points of nine.
"All-in-all I'm delighted with the result, but I can understand if the punters are going home not so happy with the result. I think I'll go home happy because we've got three points, but I'll want and demand better performances."