Match report: Everton 2-2 Villa
Two-goal Darren Bent earned Villa a valuable point at Goodison Park - and it could easily have been three.
The club's record signing pounced twice after the break to cancel out Leon Osman's first half opener and put Gerard Houllier's men in the driving seat.
But Everton salvaged a draw with a controversial late penalty from Leighton Baines.
It was harsh on the visitors, although fortune had been with them when Jermaine Beckford's shot bounced down off the bar and appeared to cross the line just before Bent's second goal.
The former Sunderland striker certainly has a liking for Merseywide, having scored twice for his former club against Liverpool at Anfield earlier in the season.
With Gabby Agnonlahor returning up front alongside Bent, Villa made a promising start, almost making a sixth-minute breakthrough when Stewart Downing cut menacingly in from the right.
The winger's nifty footwork outfoxed two opponents, only for his initial shot to be charged down by Sylvain Distin before his second effort was blocked by John Heitinga.
Three minutes later, though, the visitors were grateful to Brad Friedal's agility, the American keeper tipping away Beckford's low left-foot shot at full stretch after the Everton striker had raced on to Kyle Walker's misplaced header.
But Villa were the more enterprising side at this stage, Richard Dunne heading over from Downing's corner before Ashley Young's deep centre was tipped away by Tim Howard as Downing moved in for a far post header.
Although James Collins did well to block Beckford's close-range drive, Villa were unfortunate not to take a 29th-minute lead.
After the home side had failed to clear Downing's corner, Nigel Reo-Coker's powerful drive looked destined for the roof of the net until Tony Hibbert bravely threw himself in the way to divert it for a corner.
But just as Villa were starting to get on top, they were rocked by Everton's opening goal. Osman made a strong run down the left-hand channel and although he was well marshalled by Collins, he found sufficient space to unleash a low, left foot shot which Friedel could only help over the line.
That setback left the visitors subdued for the remainder of the opening period but there was a new zest about their play at the start of the second half, culminating in a superbly-executed equaliser.
They had just enjoyed a spell of pressure when Walker played the ball wide to Downing on the right. The winger cut inside to deliver a low, left-foot cross, and Bent thumped it first time past a helpless Howard and high into the net.
Villa were now back in the ascendancy but Everton were still dangerous. Friedel again came to the rescue with an instinctive save from Osman's close-range header and the Toffees' midfielder was only just too high with a powerful volley from Diniyar Bilyaletdinov's deep centre.
There was drama at both ends as Villa grabbed the lead in the 68th minute. Beckford thought he had scored for the Merseysiders with a shot which bounced down off the underside of the bar, although the striker appeared to be in an offside position.
While Beckford bemoaned his apparent misfortune, though, Friedel quickly played the ball downfield and a flick from Young sent Bent racing clear down the left. This time it was Everton looking for offside but the flag stayed down and the striker calmly stroked a low sot past Howard from the left-hand edge of the penalty area.
There was huge relief when Osman somehow lifted the ball over from six yards when it looked easier to score but in the 83rd minute the home side were level.
Phil Jagielka appeared to fall as he was challenged by Jean II Makoun but referee Mike Jones pointed to the spot and Baines rammed the penalty past Friedel.