In an entertaining affair, The Reds took the lead inside a minute through Dexter Blackstock, but a Scott Sinclair hat-trick put the visitors 3-1 in front.
However, late goals from Henri Lansbury and an equaliser at the death from Kelvin Wilson earned Forest a draw their performance deserved.
Dougie Freedman made three changes to the side that drew with Swansea at The City Ground last week. Wilson came in for Jack Hobbs to partner Matt Mills in the centre of defence, while David Vaughan replaced Michael Mancienne in central midfield. Blackstock started up front in place of trialist Nicky Maynard, who has left the club. New signings Ben Hamer and Daniel Pinillos started on the bench.
With the first attack of the game Forest took the lead. Lansbury picked up a loose ball 40 yards out and, shaping to shoot, instead played a delightful through ball to Dexter Blackstock, who took one touch inside the area before sliding his finish under Mark Bunn in the Villa goal.
The game started at a breakneck speed and Michail Antonio created another chance for The Reds just moments later, when he beat Jose Crespo on the left-hand side and crossed in, but Micah Richards was there to clear.
Lansbury was at his creative best again minutes later when he and Blackstock almost created a carbon copy of the first goal. Looking to shoot, he again laid the ball into the striker’s path, but this time he couldn’t take it in his stride and the chance was lost.
Forest had started fantastically well and could easily have made it two on the ten-minute mark. Antonio picked out Blackstock with a dinked ball and he laid it back for Jamie Ward to shoot on the edge of the area, but the front man had strayed into an offside position.
Just shy of the quarter hour mark The Reds put together a fine move. Lichaj and Ward combined on the right and the full back burst into the centre of the field, eventually laying the ball off for Lansbury. The Forest skipper produced yet another inch perfect through ball, this time for Robert Tesche, but the German couldn’t get a shot away and his cross was too much for Blackstock in the centre.
The Reds continued to look the more likely to score the game’s second goal, but at the midway point of the first half, the visitors equalised. A sumptuous cross from Jordan Amavi was headed home by Scott Sinclair, leaving Forest stopper Dorus de Vries no chance.
The game settled down after the Villains had equalised. On 35 minutes Jose Crespo departed with an injury and former Forest loanee Alan Hutton replaced the Spaniard.
Aston Villa’s deep-lying midfielder Idrissa Gueye had his first effort from range in the 41st minute, but it sailed harmlessly over the Forest bar, and The Reds were doing well to restrict the visitors to half chances.
Amavi, who set up Villa’s first goal, nearly had his second assist of the game just before the break, when he wriggled past Lichaj and crossed for the tricky Jordan Ayew, but his eventual effort rifled into Dorus de Vries’ side netting.
That was to be the last real chance of an entertaining first period, when both sides could easily have added to their goal tally.
Tim Sherwood elected to make four changes at the break: Joe Cole, Carlos Sanchez, Jordan Vertout and Nathan Baker replaced Richards, Kozak, Gueye and Ciaran Clark. Dougie Freedman sent out an unchanged Forest side and, like they had in the first half, they nearly found the back of the net straight away.
A dangerous Lichaj cross was an inch away from Antonio at the back post, where the winger couldn’t quite stretch enough to head it home. Any form of contact and it was a certain goal.
Antonio then turned provider on 50 minutes. Picked out by a long David Vaughan pass, the winger sent in an instant cross for Blackstock, but Bunn comfortably claimed the forward’s poked effort.
Then the visitors went in front, aided by a slice of luck. Cole arrowed a low pass forwards which took a wicked deflection off a Forest foot, finding its way to Sinclair inside the box. He made no mistake, finishing high into the net, scoring his and Villa’s second goal of the game.
The Reds nearly equalised on 57 minutes when Jamie Ward hit an outrageous effort from wide on the touchline that rattled Mark Bunn’s crossbar. It was as close as Forest had come since taking the lead in the first minute.
Vaughan then won a fine challenge in the middle of the park on the hour mark which set Blackstock away, running at the heart of the Villa defence. The striker fed Ward, who again had an effort from range, but this wasn’t as close as his previous try and went wide.
Five minutes later the visitors went 3-1 ahead. Sinclair picked the ball up 25 yards out and arrowed a shot into the top right-hand corner of the Forest net to complete his hat-trick in sensational fashion.
Michael Mancienne entered the fray for Forest halfway through the second period, replacing David Vaughan, before Callum Robinson and Lewis Kinsella came on for Villa, in place of Leo Bacuna and Sinclair.
Lansbury picked out the lively Ward with a fine forward ball after breaking up a Villa attack just beyond the 70-minute mark and the winger beat his full back, before crossing for Blackstock. The forward sent a shot towards goal, but he couldn’t get enough on the effort to trouble Bunn.
That was to be Blackstock’s last action as he was replaced by Tyler Walker, and Chris Burke also came on for The Reds, in place of Antonio.
With 12 minutes remaining the excellent Ward was replaced by Jamie Paterson and soon after The Reds had a goal back.
Given time on the edge of the area, skipper Lansbury created himself enough space for a shot and sent a neat toe-poked effort towards the Villa goal. It hit the inside of Bunn’s left-hand post and nestled in the back of the net.
The tension ratcheted up again inside The City Ground as Forest searched for an equaliser, but with England international Cole dictating the game’s tempo, Villa did a fine job of keeping the ball.
But The Reds didn’t give up, and Tyler Walker won a corner with a minute remaining. The set piece found its way to Kelvin Wilson ten yards out and he took it down, before deftly finishing past Bunn with what turned out to be the last kick of the game.
Forest: De Vries, Lichaj, Mills, Wilson, Fox, Antonio (C.Burke 75'), Lansbury (c), Tesche, Vaughan (Mancienne 69'), Ward (Paterson 79'), Blackstock (Walker 75')
Subs not used: Hamer, Pinillos, Hobbs, Riera, Taylor
Goals: Blackstock 1', Lansbury 81', Wilson 90'
: Bunn, Crespo (Hutton 35'), Richards (Baker 46'), Clark (Veretout 46'), Amavi, Bacuna (Robinson 70'), Gueye (Cole 46'), Westwood, Sinclair (Kinsella 70'), Ayew, Kozak (Sanchez 46')
Sub not used: Watkins
Goals: Sinclair 22', 52', 64'
Referee: Steve Martin
Attendance: 10,625 (3,234 away)