With the clock ticking into stoppage time and Villa’s duel with Leicester looking destined to end in the Premier League season’s first 0-0 draw, Ross Barkley produced a piece of magic to continue the dream start to the campaign for Dean Smith’s team.
Picking up the ball 25 yards from goal, the on loan Chelsea midfielder sent a vicious right-footed shot into the bottom corner to make it four league wins from four and send Villa back up to second in the table.
The fact Barkley’s shot was the visiting team’s first serious effort on target says everything about a match which could not have been more contrasting to their previous outing - a 7-2 win over Liverpool.
That result hs been hailed as one of the greatest results in club history yet in some ways, the win may be more satisfying for Smith.
After all, the King Power Stadium was the venue Villa were thumped 4-0 back in March, in their final match before lockdown, on a night when they looked every inch a team destined for relegation.
The turnaround in the seven months since has been remarkable and this result will do little to dampen the rising expectations of supporters. A draw at home to Leeds on Friday night will be enough to send Villa top for the first time in two decades.
Barkley, meanwhile, has added another X-Factor to Smith’s team and proved the difference-maker on a night when Jack Grealish appeared strangely indecisive.
A draw would still have represented a decent result but with the hosts missing several key men, not least Jamie Vardy, it would have felt a little underwhelming.
Villa would have been forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief when it emerged Vardy would not be involved for the hosts. The striker had scored twice in both Premier League fixtures against Smith’s men last season but missed out on this occasion due to a calf strain.
Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers was also without Caglar Soyuncu meaning new £30million signing Wesley Fofana was handed a debut in the heart of defence.
Villa’s line-up was, unsurprisingly, unchanged from the one which had performed so impressively against Liverpool. The only alteration to the squad was on the bench, where a calf strain forced Keinan Davis to miss out. That saw a return to the Villa squad, for the first time since Villa’s last trip to Leicester in March, for the fit-again Bjorn Engels.
Vardy’s absence meant a start up front for Kelechi Iheanacho and he was involved in much of the home side’s best work as they started sharper than the visitors.
Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez had to be alert when racing out to clear from in front of the striker after Ezri Konsa had allowed James Justin’s through ball to run through.
Martinez was then forced into a smart save, denying the lively Timothy Castagne on the angle, after the full-back’s run from deep had been picked out by Iheanacho.
Villa were guilty of being sloppy on the ball with Watkins a peripheral figure. In defence where they almost played their way into trouble more than once, Matty Cash doing well to outpace Dennis Praet after Konsa had passed the ball straight to Harvey Barnes.
It took more than 25 minutes for the visitors to finally find some rhythm but when they did it almost delivered a breakthrough. John McGinn sent a long diagonal pass out toward the left flank and Matt Targett, who quickly shifted the ball inside to Grealish, the skipper’s pull back being placed wide by Trezeguet from 12 yards out.
It was the best move from either team in a half which, as it wore on, became more about how often referee Jon Moss was blowing his whistle. John McGinn and Matty Cash both went into the book for Villa, with Ayoze Perez and Youri Tielemans doing so for the hosts.
Targett sent a free-kick over the bar from 25 yards out to punctuate the bookings before, with half-time imminent, Villa carved out another good chance.
Grealish was the creator courtesy of a sublime backheel to find Targett, whose cross was just a little too high for Trezeguet at the far post.
Leicester were the first to threaten in the second half, Perez seeing a shot deflected wide after Villa had failed to clear a free-kick.
But the visitors were improving with Grealish an increasing influence on the game. Another smart flick gave Targett the chance to deliver a cross which was hacked clear by the home defence. Then, from a Grealish corner, Konsa rose to plant a header a foot wide of the far post.
Finally the match looked set to spark. Tielemans let fly with a shot from 25 yards which took a flick off Mings but Martinez in the Villa goal proved equal to it.
The keeper was called into action again soon after when Tielemans fired in a free-kick which he held at his near post, before the Leicester midfielder showed off the defensive side of his game, cutting out a McGinn pass intended for Trezeguet as Villa looked to break.
As Villa pressed, Luiz shot straight at Schmeichel after being found in space by Grealish at the edge of the box, while a deflected Watkins shot landed right in the arms of the keeper following another decent move from the visitors.
Rodgers brought Islam Slimani off the bench for the Algerian international’s first Premier League appearance since early 2018 and he headed over, while Barnes also shot off target.
Villa just couldn’t find the final ball. When Grealish broke through the middle with options left and right, he chose neither and saw his eventual cross cleared.
Bertrand Traore, on as a late substitute, appeared to have wasted Villa’s last chance when he headed straight Schmeichel.
But then came Barkley’s moment, the midfielder collecting a pass from McGinn and driving a low shot into the bottom corner from 25 yards out.
Villa (4-3-3): Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett, McGinn, Luiz, Barkley, Trezeguet (Traore 80), Watkins, Grealish Subs not used: Hourihane, Nakamba, Engels, El Ghazi, Elmohamady, Steer (gk).
Leicester (4-3-3): Schmeichel, Castagne, Fofana, Evans, Justin, Praet (Maddison 67), Mendy (Choudhury 78), Tielemans, Perez, Iheanacho (Slimani 71), Barnes Subs not used: Morgan, Albrighton, Under, Ward (gk).