By Paul Brown
It was a case of friends reunited at Sheffield United as England U21 mates Kyle Walker and Marc Albrighton blunted the Blades before Stiliyan Petrov put them to the sword at Bramall Lane.
In his first interview as a claret and blue player, Walker mentioned the camaraderie he enjoys with Albrighton when away with his country and that was evident with the pair linking up brilliantly throughout the game - and bagging a goal each in the first half to help Villa through to FA Cup fourth round.
Former Villan Jamie Ward pulled one back soon after the interval but Villa hit back in stoppage time, Petrov firing home brilliantly from just outside the box.
The major downside of the game was the late dismissal of playmaker Ashley Young, who was sent off for two bookable offences.
The classic Star Wars theme tune blasted out as the players emerged from the tunnel before kick-off - never mind Skywalker, we'll take Walker any day.
It was a case of Gerard Houllier's Empire Strikes Back as the reliable right-back used the force to give the boss a perfect start.
The new loan signing showed his pace and grace down the right before cutting inside on to his left foot and firing home.
The claret and blue army behind the goal went wild but Walker showed his classy side by demonstrating restraint in front of his own people, having supported the Blades all his life.
His right-side pal Albrighton got in on proceedings just past the half hour mark, with a tremendous finish.
Young flew down the left channel and delivered a pinpoint ball into the box, which Albrighton volleyed confidently into the net. It was no more than Villa deserved in a first period they dominated.
The home side did have their chances, Brad Friedel making a wonderful point-blank save from former Villa striker Ward, after Richard Dunne had nodded the ball too short for the veteran shot-stopper.
Kyle Bartley almost gave United hope at the end of the first period but his 20-yard drive flew over the bar.
The home side came out like the proverbial house on fire after the interval and immediately gave themselves hope with a converted penalty.
Defensive rock Carlos Cuellar fouled Lee Williamson in the box and Ward despatched the spot-kick past Friedel.
Villa's No.1 had to be on his toes just before the hour mark when he produced a fine diving save to deny Bartley who let fly from 20 yards out.
Despite this second half revival, Villa showed great composure, with the home side cheering their heroes on.
Gabby Agbonlahor, always full of running, nearly gave Houllier's men breathing space when he charged down the left channel, outstripping his marker, but the speed demon fired into the side netting.
And second half sub Petrov had a gilt edged chance with 15 minutes remaining, firing straight at Simonsen close-in, after a wonderful ball through from Young.
He would make up for that miss later. Winger Young was ordered off soon after for the second of two bookable offences and United saw this as an obvious chance to get back into the game.
But the claret and blue troops defended stoutly in the closing minutes. Friedel showed the agility of a man half his age to dive and save Johnny Ertl's overhead kick before skipper Petrov settled the tie.
Walker charged forward down the middle, laying the ball off to Albrighton. The winger fed the Bulgarian just outside the box and he made no mistake with an unstoppable shot.
Verdict - Villa win and totally deserved.
SHEFF UTD: Simonsen, Montgomery, Ertl, Britton, Evans, Bogdanovic, Williamson, Ward, Kozluk, Bartley, Parrino. Subs: Calve, McAllister [for Williamson, 75], Long, James, Slew, Harriott.
VILLA: Friedel; Walker, Cuellar, Dunne, Clark; Albrighton, Reo-Coker, Bannan, Young; Agbonlahor, Pires. Subs: Marshall, Petrov [for Bannan, 65], Collins, Hogg, Herd, Delfouneso, Downing [for Pires, 65].