By Rob Bishop
Darren Bent's second consecutive Barclays Premier League goal earned Villa a point in a high-tempo derby which had supporters on the edge of their seats.
Introduced as a 68th-minute substitute for Christian Benteke, the club's record signing drilled home an equaliser 10 minutes from the end to cancel out Shane Long's 51st-minute opener for the Baggies.
Only two brilliant Ben Foster saves prevented Paul Lambert's men from establishing a first-half lead, the visitors' keeper tipping over Brett Holman's 30-yard half-volley and then somehow clawing away an angled shot from the Australian midfielder when a goal looked certain.
Long's goal put Albion in the driving seat and away win looked increasingly likely.
But Bent's late strike ensured an outcome that ensured both sets of supporters went home reasonably happy.
It was a pulsating contest from the outset.
A third-minute Gabby Agbonlahor cross was just too far ahead of Benteke, although Long might easily have opened the scoring when James Morrison nodded down Chris Brunt's deep centre from the left.
The striker was in a good position right in front of goal, but sent his header wide from six yards.
Long was also off target following Zoltan Gera's through ball, while Ron Vlaar eased a potentially threatening situation by getting the ball to safety after Villa had initially failed to clear a corner.
The visitors were equally grateful to Jonas Olsson when he lunged to head behind Agbonlahor's cross-shot and in the 25th minute Villa were desperately close to scoring.
Karim El Ahmadi headed forward and Holman could not have connected any better as he unleashed a superb half-volley from 30 yards.
The ball was heading for the roof of the net until keeper Foster stretched to tip it over.
Holman tried his luck again with a low 20-yard drive which flashed not far wide after Agbonlahor's neat turn had set up the opening, while Clark headed off target when he rose to meet Albrighton's right-wing corner.
In the 41st minute, Foster made as second crucial save which was even more impressive than his first.
Albrighton's perfect pass created an opening for Holman, who slipped past his marker before letting fly with an angled left-footer.
Foster appeared to have dived to early but the keeper somehow managed to get the ball away for a corner with his left arm.
On the stroke of half-time, Benteke dispossessed Gareth McAuley on the left touchline and cut inside Claudio Yacob before sending his right-foot shot too high.
But in the 51st minute it was Albion who surged in front.
A minute earlier Long had seen a header ruled out for offside, but when Morrison crossed low from the right, Vlaar's attempted sliding clearance bounced off the striker's left leg and over the line from six yards.
Villa's immediate response was a close-range Benteke shot which was blocked before Joe Bennett curled a free-kick only a foot wide of the far post from just outside the penalty area.
Even so, Villa were indebted to Guzan when the keeper saved another Long shot and then tipped away a fiercely-struck centre from sub Tamas.
Despite making three substitutions, Villa were finding it increasingly difficult to break down as well-organised Baggies defence - until Bent pounced 10 minutes from the end.
Bannan's left-wing corner was headed back across goal by Vlaar, and Clark had a close-range drive blocked before the striker drilled home the rebound from eight yards.
Three minutes later, there was a heart-stopping moment when Albion sub Romelu Lukaku's shot deflected off Clark and looped over Guzan before clipping the far post.
And in a tense finale, Bent's 18-yard effort just cleared the bar before Guzan made an excellent save from Lukaku's angled shot.
Villa: Guzan; Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Bennett; El Ahmadi, Delph (Bannan, 71); Albrighton (N'Zogbia, 66), Holman, Agbonlahor; Benteke (Bent, 68). Unused subs: Given, Westwood, Weimann, Lichaj.
Albion: Foster; Jones (Tamas, 45), McAuley, Olsson, Popov; Yacob, Mulumbu; Brunt (Dorrans, 39), Morrison, Gera; Long (Lukaku, 72). Unused subs: Daniels, Rosenberg, El Ghanassy, Fortune.