By Rob Bishop
New signing Michael Bradley was paraded on the pitch before the game against Fulham but it was his fellow countryman Clint Dempsey who had the final word at Villa Park.
Gerard Houllier's men led twice in an open, entertaining contest but American midfielder Dempsey's 78th-minute header earned the Cottagers a point.
It was very much a case of déjà vu for John Pantsil. The Fulham right-back had headed into his own net after just three minutes of last season's corresponding game - and he repeated the unwanted feat in the 13th minute of this one.
But Andy Johnson plundered an equaliser six minutes into the second half and although Kyle Walker restored the lead with a stunning 25-yarder on 72 minutes, Dempsey denied Villa victory when he brought the scores level again six minutes later.
The home side could easily have been ahead as early as the sixth minute. Stewart Downing made a fine run down the right before switching to his left foot for a low drive which keeper Mark Schwarzer could only push to one side.
Darren Bent was perfectly positioned to turn the rebound over the line, only for the effort to be ruled out for offside.
It was a marginal decision, but certainly not one which was about to throw Villa out of their stride.
After Downing had sent a fierce 25-yard free-kick into the visitors' defensive wall, the winger was instrumental in the opening goal.
Accepting a pass from Jean Makoun, Downing delivered a teasing cross from the right with the outside of his boot.
It was intended for Agbonlahor at the far post but Pantsil got there first - and sent a downward header back across Schwarzer and inside the post.
With Makoun settling in well on his home debut, Villa knocked the ball around confidently throughout the opening period, Downing sending another powerful free-kick into the Cottagers' wall just before half-time, Makoun firing wide from the rebound.
In between times, the visitors created some decent chances of their own.
Former Villa man Steve Sidwell saw a deflected drive well held by Brad Friedel and sent another low shot not far wide, while a Mousa Dembele shot was blocked before it could inflict any damage.
Villa were again on top at the start of the second half, Agbonlahor testing Schwarzer with a low 20-yard which the keeper did well to hold and Walker's cross was just too high for Bent following a flowing move down the right.
But the Londoners were level when Johnson lunged forward to head in from six yards after Friedel had parried Sidwell's stinging drive from outside the penalty area.
The blow prompted a positive response, Bent's angled effort being charged down by Pantsil before Ciaran Clark missed a glorious opportunity to claim his fifth goal of the season.
The left-back was perfectly positioned to meet Downing's inviting right-wing cross but allowed the ball to glance tamely off his head, enabling Schwarzer to save comfortably.
Then Ashley Young fired wide as he was challenged by Chris Baird before Downing superbly controlled Makoun's beautifully-lofted pass before spoiling his good work with a wayward left-foot shot.
But there was no such problem for Walker five minutes later. Receiving a short pass from Stiliyan Petrov, the right-back accelerated away from Sidwell before unleashing a tremendous 25-yard drive which left Schwarzer helpless as it flew into the bottom corner.
This time Villa, though, were ahead for only six minutes, Dempsey getting in front of Friedel on the six-yard line to power home a header from Danny Murphy's left-wing corner.
The visitors almost grabbed an 89th-minute winner, Friedel making an excellent save from Johnson but a draw was just about the right outcome.