Supersub Ali Benarbia snuffed out Aston Villa's hopes of ending their away-day blues at Maine Road as they went down 3-1 to Manchester City.
The veteran Algerian has been relegated to bench duties for much of the current campaign despite his starring role in City's promotion season 12 months ago.
Yet, even at 34, he proved at Charlton a fortnight ago that he can still cajole extra effort out of his team-mates and it was his introduction midway through the second half which gave Villa that familiar sinking feeling.
Without an away win all season, the visitors harboured genuine hopes of victory after Dion Dublin had grabbed only his side's third goal on their travels to level Marc-Vivien Foe's early effort.
However, Benarbia had other ideas and after striking the Villa bar with virtually his first touch, advanced unmarked into the penalty area to dispatch Nicolas Anelka's cross with a close-range diving header 12 minutes from time.
The City fans were still celebrating when Benarbia chipped a pass beyond the static home defence, setting up Foe, who slid in to score.
With both sides suffering defeats in their pre-Christmas fixture, opposing former England bosses Kevin Keegan and Graham Taylor tinkered with their line-ups.
Keegan brought back Shaun Wright-Phillips for the first time in four matches, while Ulises De La Cruz and Mark Kinsella were restored to the visitors' line-up.
What City were no doubt looking to avoid was a repeat of Monday's encounter with Spurs, which they dominated for 40 minutes only to find themselves on level terms when the half--time whistle blew.
Yet frustratingly for the Maine Road faithful, it was exactly how the opening period transpired.
The approach play might not have been as slick but City conspired to fritter away as many chances as they did against Tottenham.
Interspersed with Foe's successful effort were an Anelka shot which flashed wide, an Eyal Berkovic drive which blasted into a defender and a couple of decent crosses which Villa defenders cleared at full stretch.
The best chance to grab a confidence-boosting second came when Olof Mellberg trod on the ball as he attempted to dribble out of his own area.
Goater pounced on the loose ball but after unselfishly opting to cross instead of taking on the shot from a tight angle, he failed to find Anelka and let Villa off the hook.
It wasn't the reprieve to offer a side which has failed to collect an away win all season and the visitors promptly levelled with one of their few forward forays of the half.
City had already escaped once, just moments before Dublin struck, when Peter Schmeichel saved well from De La Cruz at his near post, then reacted with relief as Dunne's attempted clearance cannoned into Villa's eventual scorer and ballooned over from close range.
Even then, Sylvain Distin should have done more to clear the danger which followed. Instead the Frenchman was content to let Jlloyd Samuel's cross roll out for a corner after striking him on the knee.
Samuel had other ideas though, following up his initial run then finding Dublin, who threaded his close-range shot through a crowded six-yard box with former team-mate Schmeichel unsighted and helpless.
Despite that morale-boosting strike, Villa did not inspire much confidence in attack. Steve Howey snuffed out one Mustapha Hadji raid but when Juan Pablo Angel was introduced just past the hour, the visitors had not created another noteworthy effort.
Not that City were doing much better at the other end until Berkovic's disguised pass found its way to an unmarked Foe, who should have scored but instead side-footed well wide from barely 10 yards.
It took the arrival of Benarbia to spark some life into an increasingly listless home attack.
Even before his goal, the midfielder had threatened something special, smashing a shot against the crossbar after his own attempted through-ball to Anelka had rebounded straight back into his path.
Questions will be asked about his unchecked run into the area to meet Anelka's cross but the real blame lay at the feet of the two defenders who allowed the Frenchman to deliver the crucial final ball.
With their heads still spinning, Benarbia struck again, setting up Foe for his second with a brilliantly-chipped pass which invited the first-time finish it received to leave Villa still chasing that elusive away win.
City boss Kevin Keegan hailed an astonishing contribution from substitute Benarbia.
'Ali changed the game,' said Keegan.
'Before he went on I said to him "give me a bit of magic". He said "no magic,
just a bad goal". Well he got a very good goal.
'He had the courage to throw himself in there when some midfielders might
'I felt if I didn't change it today we would have gone under, so I'm pleased
with the way it worked out.'
Keegan confirmed that the Algerian's return to form will earn him a return to City's starting line-up.
'Ali is the reason we are in this league,' said Keegan.
'He has had a tough time this season but now he is right back to his best.
The fans adore him and he will be in my team at Fulham on Saturday for
For Villa boss Graham Taylor, it was another disappointing afternoon, and he
could not take too much comfort from Dublin's strike.
'That is the first time a forward has scored for us in an away game this
season,' he mused.
'We have five or six strikers at the club and they have all had a run in the
side at various times. We are creating chances, we just aren't taking them.''
Graciously though Taylor admitted Benarbia's contribution had been the most
'People will probably question Kevin about why Benarbia doesn't start but if
he keeps doing that when he comes on, substitute might be his best position,'
said the former England boss.
'He was the major reason why we lost this game.'