There were thankfully no punches thrown as Jack Grealish made his return to action following the shame at St Andrew's, but Roy Keane and John Terry looked like getting close during a touchline spat.
The two former Premier League winning captains engaged in a frank exchange of views after Karim Ansarifard escaped a second booking despite leading an arm into Neil Taylor's face.
The pointing and shouting ended up being a sideshow as Villa emerged comfortable winners to make a real statement. Grealish's return from injury has coincided with three successive wins to put his side within touching distance of the play-offs.
MATCH FACTS AND LEAGUE TABLE
Nottingham Forest (4-1-3-2):
Pantilimon 6.5; Darikwa 6, Milosevic 6, Benalouane 6, Osborn 6; Pele 6 (Guedioura 71, 6); Yates 5 (Goncalves 76), Colback 7, Lolley 7; Carvalho 5.5, Ansarifard 6 (Murphy 62, 5)
Subs not used:
Steele, Watson, Wague, Bonatini
: Martin O'Neill 6
Aston Villa (4-3-3):
Steer 7; Elmohamady 7, Hause 7.5, Mings 8, Taylor 7; McGinn 8.5, Hourihane 7, Grealish 7.5 (Whelan 87); Green 7.5, Abraham 6.5 (Kodjia 72, 6), El Ghazi 6 (Adomah 64, 6.5)
Subs not used:
Kalinic, Carroll, Jedinak, Bjarnason
: Dean Smith 7.5
Mike Dean 7
The reverse fixture in November finished 5-5 and the start here suggested another thriller was on the cards. Forest took the lead inside three minutes, but barely a few moments they fell behind.
Forest's goal had a large element of luck, but began with a wonderful run by Joe Lolley, who got four assists and a goal back at Villa Park. He slalomed through four Villa players and passed to Jack Colback, who tried to cross but ended up chipping Jed Steer with the ball going in off the post.
Four minutes later Villa levelled. Ahmed Elmohamady's long ball down the right flank found John McGinn in irrepressible mode. McGinn wrestled off Colback, then cut inside him and buried a brilliant low shot through Costel Pantilimon.
McGinn put Villa in front with an even better hit but first there was time for Tammy Abraham to glance wide Conor Hourihane's corner, and Anwar El Ghazi to see a header from Grealish's free-kick ruled out for offside.
In the 15th minute, McGinn made Villa's pressure count. He cut inside 20 yards out and with his left struck the sweetest of daisy-cutters, the ball whistling along the turf and smacking in off the post.
Pele did not live up to his name when he shot over a very presentable chance, and then Mike Dean became involved in his first controversy of the night. Kortney Hause was slack in possession, allowing Karim Ansarifard to seize the ball. Hause, the last man, tugged him back. Dean showed only a yellow, pointing to a covering defender.
Dean then booked Ansarifard for diving after the Forest forward fell in the box under the presence of Hourihane. The Villa midfielder delivered a verbal volley as Ansarifard lay on the ground.
Great work by Andre Green created Villa's next chance, his cross finding Abraham, whose shot was turned wide by a superb save from Pantilimon.
When Ansarifard led an arm into Neil Taylor's face the benches came alive. Terry, not unreasonably, asked the fourth official if a second yellow was warranted.
Keane, never one to shy away from an argument, returned fire. There was lots of pointing and shouting and some staring and the City Ground erupted. 'Keano, Keano,' the Forest fans chanted.
Lolley's disguised free-kick gave Forest a clear opening but Yohan Benalouane got his header wrong and Ansarifard's shot was blocked.
When Dean awarded a contentious free-kick Forest supporters found their voices again: 'Mike Dean, it's all about you,' they suggested.
Their mood was not helped when Dean ruled out a Forest equaliser soon after the break. Benalouane headed in Joao Carvalho's corner but Dean signalled for an illegal push.
McGinn missed out on his hat-trick by sending his header wide, but in the 62nd minute Villa opened up a cushion. Hourihane's free-kick was whipped with purpose and at the far post Hause nudged the ball over.
Villa could have made it four but Jonathan Kodjia chipped his finish wide and McGinn struck the post with another effort.