A penalty from Paul Gallagher was all that separated the two sides in the end, but the visitors almost snatched a dramatic draw in stoppage time when Conor Hourihane’s shot was palmed onto a post by North End goalkeeper Thorsten Stuckmann.
Wilson said: “I can’t fault the lads, especially some of the younger players who were thrown into the action.
“A lot of people will have fancied us to take a bit of a beating here, but we gave a terrific account of ourselves.”
After a promising start from Barnsley, during which the recalled Leroy Lita missed a sitter from eight yards, Preston took the lead in the 17th minute.
Wide-man Gallagher slotted home coolly from the spot after midfielder Luke Berry had crudely hacked down John Welsh as he charged menacingly into the Barnsley box.
Former Leeds favourite Jermaine Beckford then saw a half-volley fizz inches over the top, and veteran strike partner Kevin Davies could not quite direct a far-post effort on target.
Dale Jennings missed a terrific opportunity for the visitors just minutes after the restart. Played in expertly by Hourihane, the winger fired tamely at Stuckmann from 12 yards.
Welsh and Beckford missed chances for Preston late on, before Hourihane was thwarted by the woodwork.
Preston North End: Stuckmann, Woods, Clarke, Huntington, Laird, Humphrey, Kilkenny, Welsh, Gallagher (Hayhurst 80), Davies, Beckford (Little 80). Unused substitutes: Jones, Buchanan, King, Brownhill, Browne.
Barnsley: Davies, Holgate, Nyatanga, Ramage, Smith, Berry, Bailey (Williams 56), Hourihane, Jennings, Hemmings (Oates 67), Lita (Trotta 77). Unused substitutes: Dibble, Abbott, Digby, Cowgill.
Referee: P Tierney (Lancs).
Man of the match: Conor Hourihane.