Chelsea 4 Aston Villa 4
Eight goals, three red cards, two penalties, one goalkeeping gaffe and any number of controversial refereeing decisions — all that was missing was a partridge in a pear tree in a thrilling match.
Chelsea, chasing their 72nd match unbeaten at home, came up against a Villa side who relish life on the road and from the off it was apparent Martin O'Neill's men had thrown all thoughts of giving at this time of year out of the window.
Gareth Barry eventually secured a share of the spoils with a last-gasp penalty for Villa after his side, having thrown away a two-goal lead, twice fought back with an indomitable show of spirit which bodes well for the club's European ambitions this season.
Gabriel Agbonlahor and John Carew had both given Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech a scare or two before Shaun Maloney took his first chance in the 14th minute. Agbonlahor found himself able to prise open the Chelsea defence and he put in a perfectly-timed cross which was met by Carew.
The giant Norwegian headed it down straight into the path of the little Scot who toe-poked it past Cech with ease.
Chelsea, without Didier Drogba and John Terry, immediately tried to retaliate through Frank Lampard but his shot rolled wide and then Scott Carson denied Claudio Pizarro.
Villa were now pressing for a second goal with both Agbonlahor and Ashley Young terrorising the Chelsea defence.
Agbonlahor then forced a save from Cech at close range before Carson again proved equal, saving a Joe Cole piledriver on 39 minutes.
Just a minute before half time Maloney took a speculative shot after breaking through the defence singlehandedly and fired straight at Cech who unbelievably fumbled the ball straight into his own net to double Villa's advantage.
But almost at once Chelsea were back in the game and amid huge controversy after a pile-up in Carson's penalty area.
Zat Knight was adjudged to have tripped Michael Ballack as he went through on goal and referee Phil Dowd was soon pulling the red card from his breast pocket.
Martin O'Neill appeared apoplectic on the sidelines but could do little else as the Villa centre half limped off. Up stepped Andriy Shevchenko to take the resulting penalty and the former AC Milan star made no mistake from the spot.
Maloney's efforts were not enough to keep him on the park after the interval as O'Neill sacrificed him to cater for his ten-man formation. Curtis Davies entered the fray but Villa's half-time planning was to count for nought within five minutes when Shevchenko levelled.
The visitors tried to fight back but, when Alex won the ball on the edge of the area and blasted home Chelsea's third, the travelling support must have thought the extra man would tell and their side would be finished.
But they had not banked on Villa's player of the season thus far, Martin Laursen. A Young free kick was swung into the penalty area and the Dane seemed to slip in unnoticed through the defence to volley the ball past Cech.
The celebrations were again short-lived, however. Referee Dowd again sparked debate by sending off Robert Carvalho for a two-footed tackle on Agonlahor but Chelsea manager Avram Grant was furious at the decision.
Seconds later and Dowd was at it again, awarding Chelsea a free kick on the edge of the Villa area after an apparent foul by Reo-Coker.
Ten-man Chelsea looked to Ballack to take it and he made no mistake, firing home past Carson in the 87th minute to put the home team 4-3 ahead.
But then it was Ashley Cole's turn to hand the visitors a lifeline.
The Chelsea left back appeared to handle the ball on the line and once again the referee pulled out a red card.
As the Chelsea defender sloped off to the stands and tempers flared at the award of another penalty, Barry kept his head to score and earn Villa a dramatic point.
Scorers: Maloney (14) 0-1, Maloney (44) 0-2, Shevchenko (pen, 45) 1-2, Shevchenko (50) 2-2, Alex (66) 3-2, Laursen (72) 3-3, Ballack (88) 4-3, Barry (pen, 90) 4-4.
CHELSEA (4-4-2): Cech; Ferreira, Alex, Carvalho, Ashley Cole, Kalou, Essien, Lampard (Ballack, 26), Joe Cole, Pizarro (Obi, 85), Shevchenko (Wright-Phillips 82).
ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Carson; Mellberg, Laursen, Knight, Bouma (Harewood, 90), Maloney (Davies, h/t), Reo-Coker, Barry, Young, Carew (Moore, 78), Agbonlahor.
Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).
Bookings: Chelsea — Essien (foul); Villa — Reo-Coker (foul).
Sendings-off: Chelsea — Carvalho (serious foul play), Cole (unsportsmanlike conduct); Villa — Knight (professional foul).
Villa man of the match: Gareth Barry — so many contenders in this match but the captain deserves plaudits for slotting home penalty under immense pressure.