Villa ended up a well-beaten side against Manchester United, despite a sizzling start which suggested their 18-year wait for a home victory in this fixture might be over.
After Paul Lambert's men had gone close several times in the early stages, they were left shell-shocked by two Danny Wellbeck goals in the space of three minutes.
And there was no way back after Tom Cleverley had added United's third in the 52nd minute, although both Marc Albrighton and Karim El Ahmadi were subsequently denied by fine David De Gea saves.
It was a disappointing way for Gabby Agbonlahor, acting captain in the absence on the injured Ron Vlaar, to mark his 300th appearance for the club - yet Villa's opening spell was full of enterprise as they took the game to the champions from the outset.
Inside the opening four minutes, Christian Benteke twice created shooting opportunities for team-mates with intelligent passes.
First he played in El Ahmadi for a skidding 20-yard drive which was held by David De Gea, and the keeper then had to dive to his right to clutch a stinging low angled shot from Albrighton following Benteke's superb cross-field pass.
As the home side maintained the pressure, Agbonlahor's dangerous cross from the left was cleared by Patrice Evra, while El Ahmadi had a shot blocked.
After Wellbeck had produced the visitors' first attempt - an overhead kick which was comfortably saved by Brad Guzan - Albrighton again brought out the best in De Gea, the keeper once more move diving right to hold a powerful low shot.
But just as the claret and blue faithful with buzzing with anticipation, United grabbed the lead in the 15th minute.
Adnan Januzaj met Rafael's right-wing cross with a header which hit the post, and Wellbeck was perfectly positioned to drill home the rebound.
Three minutes later it was 2-0, Wellbeck playing the ball wide to Antonio Valencia and then darting into the penalty to stretch and divert the winger's cross into the roof of the net from six yards.
Those setbacks took the sting out of Villa's approach work, although Agbonlahor produced a low shot which, unfortunately, didn't carry enough power to trouble De Gea.
The striker then made a forceful run through the middle, only to have his shot charged down on the edge of the area.
United, though, were now far more menacing, and after Villa had cleared a Valencia cross with some difficult, the winger set up Wayne Rooney for a right-foot effort which was only narrowly wide of the far post.
Wellbeck was even closer to the same upright after being released through the right channel by Valencia in the 34th minute, but Villa were finding the going tough.
Home hopes were raised by one excellent five-man move, only for Ashley Westwood to fire high and wide, while Yacouba Sylla was unable to get any direction on an early second-half header following Albrighton's fine cross.
To make matters worse, Cleverley increased United's advantage in the 53rd minute, firing inside Guzan's near post as he latched on to a through ball from Rooney, who then sent a free-kick just wide.
After Sylla had sent a shot too high following Benteke's square pass, Albrighton was unlucky with a sizzling right-footer from an acute angle in the 58th minute, his shot taking a slight deflection before being fisted out by De Gea.
After Benteke had headed wide, Villa made their first substitution in the 62nd minute and it almost paid an immediate dividend.
Andi Weimann, on for Sylla, had a shot blocked for a corner following yet another fine Albrighton centre.
Matt Lowton earned warm applause when he ventured forward to send a left-foot effort wide, but Wellbeck was again close to completing a hat-trick when he chipped just over in the 73rd minute.
Three minutes later, El Ahmadi was desperately close to scoring when his free-kick from just outside the area was pushed out by the diving De Gea.
Even so, Guzan did equally well to tip over Tom Cleverley's fierce angled drive at the other end.
Villa: Guzan; Lowton, Clark, Baker, Luna; El Ahmadi (Bacuna 86) Westwood, Sylla (Weimann 62); Albrighton, Benteke (Kozak 79), Agbonlahor. Unused subs: Steer, Bowery, Gardner, Tonev.
Manchester United: De Gea; Rafael, Jones, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Cleverley, Giggs (Fletcher 69), Januzaj (Young 69); Rooney (Zaha 84), Wellbeck. Unused subs: Lindegaard, Ferdinand, Fabio, Buttner.