Fraizer Campbell's third goal in four games fired the Black Cats into a first-half lead, with John Carew's closerange strike earning Villa a point that did little to enhance their European hopes.
The result was rather more positive for Sunderland, who are now 11 points clear of the relegation zone after a run of five games without defeat.
Their recent form stands in direct contrast to the sequence of 14 games without a victory that preceded this month's win over Bolton, and Bruce feels his side have turned the corner after a particularly difficult spell.
The manner in which we played was terrific for the team and you could see the confidence oozing back in,
We're delighted to come here and play so well. We had some wonderful chances arguably the best chance to have won the game and on another day we could have nicked it and it wouldn't have been unjust.
We seem to produce our best against the big teams, which suggests it is something to do with our mentality.
Again, we've produced a really good performance against a really good team and I'm pleased we got something from the game.
Sunderland gave as good as they got throughout, with Campbell spurning another excellent chance in first-half stoppage time and John Mensah inexplicably heading wide when completely unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box after the break.
Villa had chances of their own though, with substitutes Nathan Delfouneso and Steve Sidwell both going close in a hectic period of stoppage time.
It was the manner of the performance which pleased me most, said Bruce. We kept the ball and caused them problems. We wanted to take part in the game and it was a great night for it on a good pitch, with a good atmosphere.
We could have won the match, but in the last minute, we could have lost it too. They had a few chances and I was thinking, Where have we gone' There were a few ricochets but we got away with it.
Bruce saved particular praise for Campbell, who overshadowed his more celebrated strike partner Darren Bent as he produced arguably his best display in a Sunderland shirt.
We'd just moved Fraizer down the middle and he ran through and scored the goal,
said the Black Cats boss. I'm delighted for him. He's waited patiently and over the last five or six weeks he's contributed immensely. He's grasped his opportunity.
The only downside to the evening was the sight of an influential Mensah failing to complete the full 90 minutes for the second time in a week.
"It's a huge frustration," admitted Bruce. "We know what it is. For 60 minutes he was magnificent, but we know it's a huge, big problem for him to complete a game.
"It's similar for Steed (Malbranque).
He visibly runs out of juice, but he also put in a fantastic performance. He's looking more and more comfortable playing on the left where he can come inside and play his one-twos."