Manchester United produced a rousing second-half display to recover from two goals down and snatch a famous win from a breathless encounter at Villa Park.
The Premier League leaders found themselves 2-0 behind after 50 minutes, with Aston Villa's Andreas Weimann striking either side of half-time.
The introduction of Javier Hernandez at half-time changed everything, however.
Man Utd's comebacks this season
From 0-1 down to beat Fulham 3-2
From 0-1 and 1-2 to beat Southampton 3-2
from 0-1 down to beat Liverpool 2-1
From 0-1 down to beat Cluj 2-1
From 0-1 to beat Stoke 4-2
From 0-2 down to beat Braga 3-2
From 0-1 down to beat Braga 3-1
From 0-2 to beat Aston Villa 3-2
Sandwiched by a Ron Vlaar own goal, the United striker scored twice to complete a remarkable turnaround.
Hernandez, who has now found the net seven times in his last five matches, was enveloped by his team-mates at the final whistle after United's 14th victory in their last 16 matches, a result that leaves Sir Alex Ferguson's side four points clear at the top of the table.
Incredibly, the Old Trafford club have won 15 points from losing positions this season. And yet these late United comebacks retain something of a jack-in-the-box quality. Everyone suspects they are on the cards and yet still catch their opponents by surprise. This was no exception.
At 2-0 down, United had created for themselves an utter mess. And yet somehow they rose to find hope, and with it, power and effectiveness to turn around a lost match in seven impossible minutes and finished the job with three minutes of normal time remaining.
It was tough on Villa after a brave performance but history was always on United's side. The last time United lost here in the league was August 1995. On that day Ferguson threw David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Nevilles into the mix and Alan Hansen had warned him he wouldn't win anything with kids.
But it is Villa who are fielding the fledglings these days - seven of Lambert's side were 23 or younger, including 22-year-old Enda Stevens who made his full league debut.
Hernandez claims Villa hat-trick
United had all the experience. Scholes, who started in that United team 17 years ago, turned in another vintage midfield performance, sitting deep and spraying his trademark laser-guided passes to all corners of Villa Park. But for all of United's possession they lacked cohesion, confidence and sustained threat for 50 minutes.
Villa were two goals to the good by the time United woke from their slumber. Weimann scored both to shake United to their core.
First he found Benteke with a perfectly measured ball down the left and, when his strike partner pulled back a low cross, thumped a fizzing drive past David De Gea from 16 yards.
The interval did little to steady United as Villa began where they had left off and doubled their lead within four minutes. Ireland swept the ball left for Agbonlahor and the Villa forward's low ball skidded across the six-yard line where Weimann escaped Rio Ferdinand's attention to sidefoot in.
Villa Park was rocking and yet somehow United turned the match on its head. Ferguson's decision to replace Ashley Young with Hernandez at half-time changed the game in seven second-half minutes as United struck twice to level the match from nowhere.
Scholes, in the centre circle, set Hernandez scampering clear down the inside-right channel, the ball became caught under his feet in the box but in a flash it was out again and rolling beyond Guzan and into the back of the net.
Ferguson on 'fantastic' Villa win
Vlaar was producing a towering performance at the heart of the defence, throwing his body and head into the path of shots and crosses with tremendous regularity as United pushed and probed around the edge of the penalty area. But even he was powerless to prevent United's second as Hernandez fired Rafael goalwards and the volley deflected into the net off the Dutchman.
Villa were visibly shaken. Rooney's long-range shot was palmed clear by Guzan while Robin Van Persie struck the crossbar twice in one minute, first with a thumping header and then a fierce long-range shot.
Down at the other end, Barry Bannan - one of many Villa players to impress - found the head of Weimann with a curling cross from deep and the Austrian striker powered a header straight at De Gea, who turned the ball to safety with a brilliant reflex save.
But United would not be denied. Van Persie curled a free-kick towards the far post where Hernandez headed the ball into the bottom-right corner with unerring accuracy. Ferguson's clenched fist at the final whistle said it all, United had done it again.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson:
"It was a magnificent result and a magnificent game. Villa did fantastic today, they ran their socks off. We have to feel for them but we never gave in. We hit the bar twice but it was after the second goal we came alive, and it was a fantastic game. I admire the tenacity of the performance, though. When they need to do it, they do it."
Villa manager Paul Lambert:
"We gave it absolutely everything, we were brilliant. I can't fault the team. We've got lots of young lads in the team and they were great. I can't ask for any more from them.
Full Time The referee blows for the end of the match.
Christian Benteke concedes a free kick for a foul on Robin van Persie. David De Gea restarts play with the free kick.
The ball is delivered by Ashley Westwood, David De Gea makes a save.
Corner from the left by-line taken by Ashley Westwood, save by David De Gea.
Brett Holman takes a shot. Chris Smalling gets a block in.
The assist for the goal came from Robin van Persie.
86:56 Goal scored
Goal! - Javier Hernandez - A Villa 2 - 3 Man Utd Javier Hernandez finds the back of the net with a headed goal from close in. Aston Villa 2-3 Man Utd.
The ball is swung over by Robin van Persie,
Substitution Fabian Delph on for Barry Bannan.
Karim El Ahmadi challenges Oliveira Anderson unfairly and gives away a free kick.
Gabriel Agbonlahor fouled by Rafael Da Silva, the ref awards a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Barry Bannan.
Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Tom Cleverley from the left by-line.
Patrice Evra delivers the ball, clearance made by Barry Bannan.
Shot from long range by Rafael Da Silva goes wide of the left-hand post.
Rafael Da Silva sends in a cross, clearance made by Ron Vlaar.
Patrice Evra crosses the ball, clearance made by Ciaran Clark.
Substitution Brett Holman replaces Andreas Weimann.
Substitution Karim El Ahmadi replaces Stephen Ireland.
Substitution Oliveira Anderson comes on in place of Wayne Rooney.
Wayne Rooney delivers the ball, Ron Vlaar manages to make a clearance.
Wayne Rooney crosses the ball, Ron Vlaar manages to make a clearance.
The ball is crossed by Matthew Lowton.
Wayne Rooney takes a shot from a long way out which goes wide of the right-hand post.
The ball is swung over by Antonio Valencia.
Robin van Persie takes a shot.
Corner taken by Robin van Persie, clearance made by Ron Vlaar.
Wayne Rooney takes a inswinging corner to the near post, Robin van Persie takes a shot.
Substitution Tom Cleverley on for Paul Scholes.
Ron Vlaar takes a shot. David De Gea makes a save.
Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Barry Bannan from the right by-line.
The ball is swung over by Matthew Lowton, clearance by Chris Smalling.
Antonio Valencia crosses the ball.
Antonio Valencia sends in a cross, Ron Vlaar manages to make a clearance.
Barry Bannan produces a cross, Andreas Weimann takes a shot. Save made by David De Gea.
The offside flag is raised against Javier Hernandez. Direct free kick taken by Ron Vlaar.
Free kick taken by Ciaran Clark.
Booking Michael Carrick receives a yellow card for unsporting behaviour.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Michael Carrick on Gabriel Agbonlahor.
Wayne Rooney takes a shot. Save made by Bradley Guzan.
Effort on goal by Barry Bannan from outside the area goes harmlessly over the bar.
The ball is delivered by Rafael Da Silva, Javier Hernandez takes a shot from 12 yards.
Javier Hernandez provided the assist for the goal.
62:27 Goal scored
Goal! - Ron Vlaar - A Villa 2 - 2 Man Utd Ron Vlaar scores an own goal. Aston Villa 2-2 Man Utd.
Robin van Persie has an effort at goal from outside the box which goes wide left of the target.
Matthew Lowton produces a cross, Christian Benteke takes a shot. Save made by David De Gea.
A cross is delivered by Stephen Ireland, clearance by Chris Smalling.
Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Robin van Persie from the right by-line, Paul Scholes has a headed effort at goal from close range which goes wide left of the target.
The assist for the goal came from Paul Scholes.
57:24 Goal scored
Goal! - Javier Hernandez - A Villa 2 - 1 Man Utd Javier Hernandez gets on the score sheet with a goal from inside the area to the bottom left corner of the goal. Aston Villa 2-1 Man Utd.
Christian Benteke concedes a free kick for a foul on Rio Ferdinand. Direct free kick taken by Rio Ferdinand.
Free kick taken by Rio Ferdinand.
Booking Stephen Ireland goes into the book for unsporting behaviour.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Chris Smalling by Stephen Ireland.
The official flags Rafael Da Silva offside. Indirect free kick taken by Bradley Guzan.
The ball is swung over by Rafael Da Silva, save made by Bradley Guzan.
The assist for the goal came from Gabriel Agbonlahor.
49:20 Goal scored
Goal! - Andreas Weimann - A Villa 2 - 0 Man Utd Andreas Weimann fires in a goal from inside the six-yard box to the bottom left corner of the goal. Aston Villa 2-0 Man Utd.
Gabriel Agbonlahor produces a cross,
The ball is delivered by Antonio Valencia.
Robin van Persie takes the inswinging corner, clearance made by Christian Benteke.
Centre by Robin van Persie, clearance made by Enda Stevens.
Antonio Valencia produces a cross, clearance by Ron Vlaar.
The second half has started.
Substitution Javier Hernandez comes on in place of Ashley Young.
45:00 +1:47 Half time
Half Time The ref blows to signal half-time.
The assist for the goal came from Christian Benteke.
45:00 +0:38 Goal scored
Goal! - Andreas Weimann - A Villa 1 - 0 Man Utd Andreas Weimann scores a goal from just inside the penalty area high into the middle of the goal. Aston Villa 1-0 Man Utd.
Centre by Antonio Valencia, clearance made by Ron Vlaar.
The ball is sent over by Enda Stevens, clearance by Patrice Evra.
Wayne Rooney takes a shot. Comfortable save by Bradley Guzan.
The ball is delivered by Matthew Lowton.
Foul by Rio Ferdinand on Christian Benteke, free kick awarded. Free kick crossed left-footed by Barry Bannan, Chris Smalling manages to make a clearance.
Stephen Ireland gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Michael Carrick. Free kick taken by Rio Ferdinand.
Antonio Valencia produces a cross, clearance made by Ron Vlaar.
Long range shot by Stephen Ireland goes wide right of the goal.
Wayne Rooney takes a shot. Save by Bradley Guzan.
The ball is crossed by Rafael Da Silva.
Rafael Da Silva delivers the ball, clearance by Ron Vlaar.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Ashley Young on Ron Vlaar. Bradley Guzan takes the free kick.
Christian Benteke crosses the ball.
Foul by Stephen Ireland on Paul Scholes, free kick awarded. Michael Carrick takes the direct free kick.
Stephen Ireland challenges Paul Scholes unfairly and gives away a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Michael Carrick.
The ball is sent over by Rafael Da Silva, blocked by Enda Stevens.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Ashley Young by Matthew Lowton. The free kick is delivered right-footed by Wayne Rooney from left wing, clearance made by Ron Vlaar.
Stephen Ireland concedes a free kick for a foul on Paul Scholes. David De Gea takes the free kick.
Chris Smalling concedes a free kick for a foul on Christian Benteke. The ball is sent over by Barry Bannan, Header by Christian Benteke from deep inside the penalty area misses to the right of the target.
Shot on goal by Antonio Valencia from inside the box goes harmlessly over the target.
The ball is sent over by Rafael Da Silva, Ron Vlaar manages to make a clearance.
Ashley Young fouled by Ashley Westwood, the ref awards a free kick. Paul Scholes takes the free kick.
Rafael Da Silva fouled by Christian Benteke, the ref awards a free kick. Michael Carrick takes the direct free kick.
A cross is delivered by Robin van Persie, save made by Bradley Guzan.
Antonio Valencia fouled by Enda Stevens, the ref awards a free kick. Rio Ferdinand takes the free kick.
Ashley Young delivers the ball, Ciaran Clark manages to make a clearance.
Gabriel Agbonlahor sends in a cross, Rafael Da Silva makes a clearance.
Outswinging corner taken left-footed by Barry Bannan, clearance by Wayne Rooney.
Christian Benteke takes a shot. Blocked by Rio Ferdinand.
The referee blows for offside against Antonio Valencia. Free kick taken by Enda Stevens.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Ashley Young on Matthew Lowton. Bradley Guzan takes the direct free kick.
The ball is crossed by Barry Bannan, clearance by Michael Carrick.
Corner from the right by-line taken by Barry Bannan, Rio Ferdinand makes a clearance.
Outswinging corner taken left-footed by Barry Bannan from the left by-line, clearance by Chris Smalling.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Paul Scholes on Stephen Ireland. Barry Bannan crosses the ball from the free kick left-footed from right wing, clearance made by Patrice Evra.
Ashley Young has an effort at goal from just outside the box which goes wide of the right-hand post.
Antonio Valencia takes a shot. Blocked by Enda Stevens. Corner taken by Robin van Persie from the right by-line, Michael Carrick takes a shot. Save by Bradley Guzan.
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