Villa's 10th draw in 17 Premiership matches might have been easy to predict as a newly determined Sheffield United put the resilience of Martin O'Neill's side to the test but the route by which it was reached would have surprised to anyone anticipating a battle of attrition.
The visitors were in front after little more than a minute but a stirring fight back from the home side turned the match on its head in the second half and, but for a lapse in concentration that allowed Villa an immediate equaliser, Neil Warnock's side might have been celebrating a third successive win. Even so, it was Villa who were the more relieved to hear the final whistle after the goalkeeper Stuart Taylor had been given a severe examination.
Taylor's saves from Rob Hulse and Stephen Quinn might have been the major talking point but for an altercation in the closing seconds between the United captain Chris Morgan and Villa's Juan Pablo Angel in which the Colombian appeared to strike out with an elbow as the two challenged for the ball inside the United penalty area. The incident so infuriated Morgan that Stuart McCall, the United assistant manager, had to intervene in the players' tunnel.
Warnock said: "I can't understand why the referee, Mark Halsey, did nothing about it; Chris was furious. Stuart had to run down the tunnel to make sure Chris went in the right direction."
The Villa manager Martin O'Neill said: "There were words exchanged but I'm not the tallest and I could not see who was involved. But nothing was thrown."
Both managers agreed it would be undesirable to let the incident overshadow an entertaining match in which the home side conceded a goal within 76 seconds of the start when Chris Sutton's attempt to set up Milan Baros was blocked and the ball ran kindly for Stiliyan Petrov, whose shot zipped past Paddy Kenny into the bottom corner.
The Bulgarian's first goal in 16 appearances for Villa set the standard for a contest between teams who matched each other for positive intent. Before half an hour had elapsed, Sutton had seen a diagonal header hit the bar and Kenny had pulled off a double save to keep out Gary Cahill.
By half-time, the visitors' goal was being increasingly threatened and, four minutes after the restart, Warnock's team were rewarded with an equaliser. Quinn, a 20-year-old Irishman making only his second Premiership appearance, volleyed home when Robert Kozluk's long throw-in was weakly headed away by Liam Ridgewell.
On 64 minutes United took the lead, Chris Morgan out-jumping Gavin McCann to Keith Gillespie's cross with Danny Webber on hand to hook the ball past Taylor. It was a moment of elation that faded almost instantly as Villa swept back upfield to get back on level terms, Baros lashing home his first goal of the season.
Hulse tested Taylor with another superb header but the goalkeeper was equal to it and, with the help of Aaron Hughes, kept out Hulse's follow-up as well as efforts from United substitute Christian Nade before another leap denied Quinn his second goal.
Goals: Petrov (2) 0-1; Quinn (50) 1-1; Webber (64) 2-1; Baros (65) 2-2.
Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kenny; Kozluk, Bromby, Morgan, Geary; Gillespie, Montgomery, Jagielka, S Quinn; Webber (Nade, 68), Hulse. Substitutes not used: Davis, A Quinn, Armstrong, Kazim-Richards.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Taylor; Mellberg, Cahill, Ridgewell, Bouma (Hughes, 67); Agbonlahor, Petrov, McCann, Davis (Osbourne, 75); Baros, Sutton (Angel, 83). Substitutes not used: Olejnik, Gardner.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).
Booked: Sheffield United Kozluk Aston Villa Cahill.
Man of the match: Petrov.
Attendance: 30,957.Reuse content