Aston Villa 0-0 Stoke

By Jonathan JurejkoBBC Sport
Stoke's Ryan Shotton
Stoke's Ryan Shotton

Aston Villa remain just two points clear of the Premier League relegation zone after an insipid goalless draw against in-form Stoke.

Despite dominating possession, Villa created few chances and Christian Benteke tamely side-footed their best opportunity at Stoke's Asmir Begovic.

Stoke, who knew they could move up to sixth with victory, failed to force Villa's Brad Guzan into a single save.

Potters defender Ryan Shotton was sent off in injury-time for a second yellow.

Scoring has been a problem for both sides this season, with just 26 goals between them in their 30 Premier League games ahead of Saturday's encounter.

So it was no surprise that Villa, the division's lowest goalscorers, failed to break down their visitors.

Defensive strength has been the bedrock of Stoke's success, with only Manchester City conceding fewer goals than the Potters.

However, Villa boss Paul Lambert once again opted to leave £24m striker Darren Bent on the bench, with the England international finally appearing midway through the second half for his first appearance since the end of October.

Huge cheers greeted Bent's arrival but he barely had a touch as he failed to provide the cutting edge sorely lacked by Villa.

Most of the home side's best chances fell to Christian Benteke, who has been leading the line during Bent's absence through injury and Lambert's selection policy.

Pulis happy with 'solid' Stoke

The Belgian met a loose ball in the Potters box with a venomous 12th-minute volley, but was denied by a brave block from Stoke skipper Ryan Shawcross.

And he wasted an even better chance less than a minute into the second half.

Barry Bannan lofted a diagonal pass into the Stoke box to allow Matthew Lowton to head back across goal to the waiting Benteke.

But the 22-year-old failed to connect properly and tamely volleyed straight into the hands of Begovic.

Tony Pulis's men were unbeaten in five league matches and would have leapfrogged Stoke and Everton into the top six with their fourth consecutive win.

But they failed to muster a single opportunity in an impotent attacking display and the single point means they remain ninth in the table.

Tempers threatened to boil over on several occasions at Villa Park, most notably when Villa defender Ciaran Clark charged into Stoke midfielder Glenn Whelan just before half-time to spark a melee between both sets of players.

Referee Roger East managed to restore peace without resorting to bookings, but Shotton became the first player to receive a yellow card for chatting back to the official.

And 18 minutes later he was sent to the dressing room after an innocuous challenge on Villa substitute Fabian Delph.

Stoke manager Tony Pulis:

"We're pleased with the draw. We played some good football as well, but that's for others to judge. We restricted Villa and Asmir [Begovic] hardly had a save to make. We could have offered more of a threat going forward.

Lambert praises young defence

"I'm disappointed with [Ryan Shotton's] two bookings when you compare those with the tackle on Glenn Whelan [by Villa's Ciaran Clark].

"But you cannot criticise the referee and say they are doing something different for each side. I'm not going to do that because they [the FA] have took money off me before for doing that. But it was pretty bizarre for me and disappointing."

Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert:

"For 0-0 it was a decent spectacle. We played really well and had early dominance. I couldn't ask for any more other than the goal.

"We had a lot of ball and dominated the game possession-wise. The young lads at the back coped well with Stoke's physicality.

"Darren Bent did fine. Everybody played their part."