Stoke 0-0 Aston Villa

By Mike HensonBBC Sport
Jonathan Walters and Richard Dunne
Stoke striker Jonathan Walters was well shackled by Richard Dunne

Stoke and Aston Villa took a point each from a drab goalless draw at the Britannia Stadium.

Marc Wilson came closest to breaking the deadlock with a bullet header that hit the underside of the crossbar before being hacked away by Villa.

Nathan Delfouneso's sliding effort was saved by Thomas Sorenson while Emile Heskey skimmed a post for the visitors.

Substitute Rory Delap's arrival helped Stoke gain the upper hand late on but neither side did enough for victory.

The result, at a ground where Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea have all failed to win this season, will be welcomed more readily by Villa boss Alex McLeish than counterpart Tony Pulis.

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The visitors had taken only eight points from their previous 10 league games, but the draw increases the gap between them and the relegation zone to six points.

Stoke hoped to exploit Villa's vulnerability at dead-ball situations, but had little joy early on.

Robert Huth headed over the top from a corner and a free-kick, but the Villa backline looked untroubled as Ryan Shotton chanced his arm with several long throw-ins into the box.

Indeed, Villa threatened through a set-piece of their own as Heskey glanced a header on to the outside of the post from Charles N'Zogbia's corner.

The former England striker's effort was a rare moment of goalmouth excitement in a poor first half.

Both sides gave away possession cheaply throughout and, on the few occasions they were able to string passes together, neither suggested they had the craft to thread a telling final ball through well-organised defences.

Stiliyan Petrov briefly threatened to break the stalemate as he found himself in space in the Stoke box, but cracked a full-blooded effort into the side netting.

The quality of entertainment on display improved in the second half.

Substitute Delfouneso almost had an immediate impact after his introduction in the wake of a recurrence of Heskey's Achilles problem.

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The England Under-21 striker got his toe to Gabriel Agbonlahor's low cross, but was denied by the outstretched foot of former Villain Thomas Sorensen in the Stoke goal before Charles N'Zogbia's crisply-hit effort whistled wide.

The aerial route continued to look the most likely to yield a goal for Stoke and, after Huth had headed over again, Wilson was within inches of a breakthrough.

The defender's header had plenty of power behind it but was kept out through a combination of the underside of the bar and Agbonlahor's chest.

A skidding free-kick from N'Zogbia squirmed out of Sorensen's grasp, while Delap's introduction from the bench increased Stoke's long throw options, but the sides remained resolutely locked together through to the final whistle.

Stoke boss Tony Pulis:

"I thought it was going to be a very tough game. That's their sixth draw away from home this season.

"Marc Wilson's was the stand-out chance of the game, and Robert Huth's had a couple of headed chances which he could have done better with.

"We didn't get out of the blocks as quickly as we'd like to but we have to give Villa some credit.

"Their two centre-halves, Richard Dunne and James Collins, were very good tonight."

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