Steve Bruce could not bear to look as Glenn Whelan missed a penalty with the last kick of a remarkable game that the Aston Villa manager desperately needed to win to alleviate the pressure on his position.
Chris Maxwell dived to his left to save Whelan's shot and deprive Bruce a crucial victory as scrutiny mounts on his position.
The Villa manager walked down the tunnel as soon as the final whistle went in the knowledge that a 3-3 draw against Preston, who started the night bottom, will not quell terrace unrest.
A stoppage time equaliser from Yannick Bolasie at least momentarily silenced calls by Villa fans for Bruce's dismissal. He had stood uncomfortably on the touchline as the Holte End chanted loudly for his removal after Louis Moult headed in Preston's third. Bizarrely, a cabbage was even thrown in his direction.
Bruce's team had led 2-0 and before suffering a controversial red card and crumbling to 3-2 down. But Bolasie, on as a substitute, prodded in from close range at a corner to save Villa from a crushing defeat.
Jonathan Kodjia and Tammy Abraham had given Villa a good half-time advantage. But nine minutes into the second half James Chester was sent off for a last-man foul, Preston scored from the spot, and Villa could not cling on with ten men.
With 11 minutes left Paul Gallagher bent a free-kick round the wall that Mark Bunn was unable to save and in the closing stages Moult rose highest to a cross from the right to nod home.
But Villa were salvaged by Bolasie and then had the chance to take all three points when Daniel Johnson pushed Birkir Bjarnason in the area. Whelan, though, hit a weak attempt and focus now turns to Saturday's trip to Millwall, which Bruce must really win.
It had looked like this would be a positive night for him when Kodjia headed in the opening goal and Abraham scored on his 21st birthday.
But the whole complexion of the game altered n the 54th minute. Lukas Nmecha burst clear, Chester tried to tackle, and referee Darren England adjudged it a foul.
If that was harsh, the red card that followed was draconian. Chester was clearly trying to play the ball so should have been spared the double jeopardy punishment. Daniel Johnson, once of Villa, converted the penalty with aplomb, and then the madness followed.