With seconds remaining Steve Stone tossed a hopeful ball into the box that Darren Anderton handled and Juan Pablo Angel buried the spot kick. There was only time to kick off.
Les Ferdinand had earlier opened the scoring with his 150th league goal and few could argue that we deserved to win our final match of 2001.
After successive, surprise defeats this looked like being the perfect way to bounce back as our passing game hit the heights again.
But it wasn't to be.
Glenn Hoddle made two changes, one particularly notable, from the Boxing Day defeat at Southampton.
Goalkeeper Kasey Keller, brought in as Neil Sullivan's deputy in the summer, took over between the sticks as our number one was dropped for the first time in his Spurs' career. The other change saw Chris Perry come in for Anthony Gardner.
We were back to our best in a first half that crackled with action from end to end.
With the outstanding Anderton orchestrating things from midfield, we passed the ball for fun and the only mystery was how numerous breaks down both flanks didn't reap more reward.
Ferdinand had a penalty appeal turned down inside a minute and with seven minutes gone the first attempt on goal as the dangerous Vassell picked up Staunton's ball down the left channel, cut inside Perry but fired into the side netting.
Vassell had another effort blocked by Richards after a quickfire break from our attack but from that move, we hit straight back up the other end as Ziege went around Schmeichel but Sheringham couldn't connect with his cross.
Richards was at his best to deny Vassell a couple of minutes later. The livewire striker spun away from the defender on halfway but as Vassell pulled the trigger in the area, Richards was there to slide the ball away.
Keller was brought into action for the first time to save Kachloul's low drive after 19 minutes and two minutes later an escape as Boateng's shot was deflected towards goal by Merson only for the ball to hit Mellberg and bounce to safety.
Ferdinand, dominant in the air, thought he'd broke the deadlock after 25 minutes. Richards flicked Freund's throw into the air and as everyone else looked skywards, Ferdinand rose magnificently to head towards goal only for his effort to hit the post and bounce into Schmeichel's hands.
Schmeichel had to claw Ziege's cross away from Ferdinand's head on the half-hour and that was followed by Villa's best moment as Merson's run and shot was saved by Keller who rose quickly to deflect Staunton's follow up and then collect Angel's weak header.
The breakthrough came seven minutes before the interval. Ziege's pass looked destined for Sheringham but the striker let it run and Ferdinand, given onside, raced clear to finish one-on-one with Schmeichel.
The Holte End, eerily quiet, greeted the half-time whistle with a chorus of boos and we deserved our lead.
Villa had the first chance of the second half. Once again they worked a free-kick to Wright on the edge of the area, his shot was blocked by a forest of legs but rebound to Hendrie, 18 yards out and his effort looked goalbound until Keller's right hand diverted it for a corner.
A succession of corners led to little and home frustrations grew as our watertight defence gave little away.
Ziege's quick feet and the early eye of Sheringham led to Poyet's deflected volley just over after 69 minutes and Schmeichel had to be alert to grab Richards' header from the corner.
It wasn't until the 76th minute that either goal was threatened again and Keller had to be at his best to tip aside Staunton's powerful header from Kachloul's cross.
This was Villa's best spell of pressure as Angel and Vassell both headed straight at Keller and we started to defend deeper.
Sergei Rebrov came on for Ferdinand with eight minutes left as we looked to cash in on opportunities to break. The Ukrainian was almost through on goal three times in as many minutes but the ball just failed to fall right.
Villa now resorted to lumping the ball upfield from any angle and, if anything, we looked the side more likely to score as Anthony Gardner, on for Ziege, twice failed to pick out Rebrov in front of goal.
But then the late drama. With the fourth minute of injury time being played, Stone crossed, Anderton handled, Angel scored and the Holte End's boos turned to cheers. Funny old game.
An injury time penalty snatched three points out of our grasp at Villa Park.