The 22-year-old winger, who starred as England booked their place at the World Cup earlier this week, scored the opening goal with a 31st-minute cross that crept past Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
Roberto Soldado added a second after half-time as Spurs moved up to fifth place in the table, three points below leaders Arsenal, and began to atone for their shock 3-0 home defeat by West Ham United.
“It was a great performance,” said Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas.
“We improved with time because the beginning was difficult, as we had lots of long balls to deal with.
“The opening goal was important to bring confidence and we really played well in the second half. We deserved to go 2-0 up.
“It was the right response after the defeat by West Ham and it is good to see us near the top.”
It was a first defeat in four league games for Paul Lambert’s Villa, who now find themselves 13th, but it was a marked improvement on their 4-0 capitulation to the same side in the League Cup last month.
“I didn’t think there was too much in it,” Lambert told Sky Sports.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Spanish striker Roberto Soldado (R) celebrates after he scored his team’s second goal with Brazilian midfielder Paulinho at Villa Park in Birmingham
“I can’t fault the lads for effort — the effort was great. On another day, we might have got something.”
Villa had last season’s top scorer Christian Benteke on the bench following a hip injury, with Nathan Baker replacing Ciaran Clark in the only change to the side that drew 0-0 at Hull City last time out.
Villas-Boas brought Lewis Holtby into his team in place of Christian Eriksen, handed Vlad Chiriches his debut at centre-back, and gave Sandro a first league start since January.
Villa forward Gabriel Agbonlahor put a half-volley over the bar from an early Leandro Bacuna cross, but heavy rain made for a slippery surface and the game suffered as a result.
Sandro shot straight at Guzan from 30 yards and Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had to scramble away a free-kick from Ashley Westwood, before the visitors made the breakthrough.
Townsend claimed the goal, but it owed to a certain degree of good fortune.
Picking up the ball wide on the right, he cut onto his left foot and attempted to pick out a team-mate in the centre, but his cross eluded both Holtby and Soldado, only to sneak in at the far post.
There was an unsavoury incident in the aftermath of the goal when assistant referee David Bryan was struck by a flare apparently thrown from the Spurs supporters’ section, but after a brief delay, play continued.
Local police later revealed that two men had been arrested over the incident.
Andreas Weimann flashed a shot just wide as Villa pushed for an equaliser, but Spurs came close to going 2-0 up in first-half stoppage time when Guzan produced a smart low stop to thwart Townsend.
Another fine save from the American prevented Paulinho from doubling the visitors’ advantage early in the second period and the introduction of Benteke gave Villa further reason for optimism.
The burly Belgian planted a header from a Bacuna cross narrowly over the bar shortly after coming on, but five minutes later, Spurs struck again.
Paulinho’s intelligent first-time pass freed Soldado and the Spain striker took a touch before lifting the ball over Guzan to claim his third league goal in a Spurs shirt.
Villa’s fight faded, but Townsend refused to leave them in peace.
He dispatched a curler that cleared the crossbar by millimetres and then flashed a ball across the face of goal that Paulinho was unable to convert.
After the best week of his fledgling career, the man-of-the-match award came as no surprise.
The News Tribe – UK-based bilingual news website covering politics, technology, sports, health and lifestyle from US, Pakistan, Middle East and around the world
Click here for more information
The News Tribe