Harry Kane departed the hero as he answered the Tottenham supporters’ earlier calls for his introduction with a dramatic 90th-minute winner.
Yet there was very much a villain too as Aston Villa, having led the contest, paid a heavy price for Christian Benteke’s needless dismissal for raising his arms with 25 minutes remaining.
What is now a run of six successive defeats represents Villa’s worst in 47 years.
And, despite departing with three points, no one should be fooled into thinking Spurs have turned the corner.
This was only a second triumph in eight Premier League matches for Mauricio Pochettino’s side and they could count themselves extremely fortunate here.
The Argentine must now surely bow to fan pressure and start with Kane, who scored his ninth of the season and first this term in the Premier League, after a cameo so good it even won him the television man-of-the-match award.
“He made a big impact,” the Spurs head coach said. “He scores in every competition.
“We have a lot of good players in the position, but on the back of his performance, maybe he will get more chances to play.”
The picture had looked altogether different at half-time.
First Christian Benteke saw a diving header flash past post and shortly afterwards the Belgium international rattled the upright.
More frustration in front of goal for Villa. Yet finally, after 547 minutes, their wait for a goal was over.
Charlie N’Zogbia capitalised on Danny Rose’s sloppiness to stride clear down the right and his low cross was converted by a sliding Andreas Weimann, whose decision to take the ball early left Hugo Lloris wrong-footed.
The only error on Villa’s part was that, having taken the lead, they sat back.
It required a fine reflex save from Brad Guzan to thwart Emmanuel Adebayor after he sprung the offside trap to go clean through.
With Roberto Soldadoisolated and ineffective, the calls for Kane had commenced by the half-hour mark.
If anything, however, the visitors got worse as passes aplenty went askew.
Tottenham’s frustration was evident and a two-footed studs-raised challenge by Jan Vertonghen on Ashley Westwood which saw him escape with a yellow card proved the catalyst for tempers flaring.
Next Benteke and Ryan Mason angrily squared up after battling for the ball. The Tottenham player thrust his head towards that of the Belgian, who responded by pushing him away with a shove to the face.
Raised hands. Red for Benteke. Mason, however, was fortuitous to escape.
Eventually the visitors’ numerical advantage told as, with six minutes remaining, Nacer Chadli stole in at the back post to sweep home Erik Lamela’s corner.
It was scarcely deserved.
For Villa, even crueller was to come, though.
With 90 minutes on the clock, Kane’s free-kick took a wicked deflection off Nathan Baker to soar beyond Guzan.
“I don’t think we deserved that, I thought we were excellent,” Villa manager Paul Lambert said.
“The sending off changed the course of the game. I can’t condone what Christian did, raising his hand, yet he was provoked.”
ASTON VILLA (4-3-3): Guzan 6; Lowton 6, Vlaar 6, Baker 6, Cissokho 7 (Bent 90); Westwood 6, Cleverley 6, Sanchez 6; Weimann 7 (Richardson 86), Benteke 5, N’Zogbia 6 (Agbonlahor 74)
TOTTENHAM (4-4-2): Lloris 6; Naughton 5, Kaboul 5, Vertonghen 5, Rose 5; Capoue 5 (Townsend 72), Chadli 6, Eriksen 4 (Lamela 45, 6), Mason 6; Adebayor 4 (Kane 58, 8), Soldado 4.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick.