A night that began with Queens Park Rangers celebrating an immediate return on their £4.5m investment in Djibril Cissé on deadline day, ended with Aston Villa rejoicing at the sight of Charles N'Zogbia finally opening his account for the club to complete a stirring comeback.
Trailing to Cissé's brilliantly taken opener – the striker also scored on his Premier League debut for Liverpool and Sunderland – and an own goal that Stephen Warnock will have nightmares about for weeks to come, Villa looked down and out until Darren Bent registered his 100th Premier League goal just before the interval to provide a flicker of hope.
Booed off at the break, Villa were transformed in the second half and got the equaliser they richly deserved when N'Zogbia, a £9.5m signing from Wigan in the summer, crashed home Stilian Petrov's centre with a superb volley. It was a goal that denied Mark Hughes his first win at Villa Park as a manager in eight attempts and, in the process, provided Alex McLeish with some respite. The natives remain restless in these parts and a fifth home defeat in six matches would have been hard to stomach.
For Rangers, there was disappointment that such a promising start had failed to yield the three points that would have put daylight between themselves and the bottom three. Jamie Mackie will rue the moment he was unable to connect with a cross from Shaun Wright-Phillips to make it 3-1, although that was a rare Rangers attack in a second half when Villa's creative trio of Stephen Ireland, Robbie Keane and N'Zogbia became increasingly influential.
Cissé was certainly that in the easy stages, his pace and movement catching the eye every bit as much as his blue boots and Mohican haircut. His early goal, which was his first in the Premier League since he scored for Sunderland against Hull in April 2009, was dispatched with aplomb, his low shot drilled into the far corner after the ball had dropped kindly for him following Ireland's attempted block on Wright-Phillips.
"I thought Cissé was excellent," Hughes said. "I think everybody understands why I wanted to bring him to the club. I thought he was bright, he was intelligent with his running and showed the power and pace that we all now that he has, and it was a good finish as well. He's going to be vital for us because that's something we haven't had in the football club before, in terms of his quality, power and technical ability."
Bobby Zamora, another deadline day signing, was ineligible and Hughes revealed that it had been a close call as to whether Cissé took part. Asked when he knew that Cissé had been granted international clearance, Hughes replied: "I think we were about 20 yards from the [Villa Park] entrance. I got a text but I didn't tell him because I wanted him to focus. I thought I was being clever but when I got in the dressing room his agent had told him already, so it was a waste of time."
If McLeish was annoyed that Cissé was left totally unmarked for his goal, it was nothing compared to the dismay he felt when Warnock headed a cross from another Rangers debutant, Taye Taiwo, into his own net in farcical circumstances. Warnock, who was booed by the Villa fans later in the half, after a wayward cross ended up in row Z, seemed to think that Richard Dunne was going to head the ball clear. McLeish buried his head in his hands in the dug-out and not even the sight of Bent stabbing home Alan Hutton's cross on the stroke of half-time could paper over the cracks of a listless opening 45 minutes.
"I just couldn't believe the first-half performance," McLeish said. "The goals were a joke. It was a pedestrian performance. We never penetrated, there was no running off the ball, no imagination or creation. We spoke at half-time and we demanded that if you play in a Villa jersey, it's got to be a much quicker tempo, especially in front of our own fans. And they responded. But I would love to see them playing in the first half, like we did in the second half. We've got to be at it every game."
Villa should have had a chance to level from the penalty spot early in the second half, when Shaun Derry clearly blocked Ciaran Clark's shot with a raised hand, but the referee, Neil Swarbrick, waved away the home appeals.
The home team were, though, cranking up the pressure on Rangers and there was a sense of inevitability about the equaliser. Ireland helped to create it, with a sublime reverse pass that released Petrov. When the Bulgarian crossed to the far post, N'Zogbia executed a sumptuous volley. "Hopefully that kick-starts his Villa career," said McLeish. "In the second half he was much more electric."