Aston Villa and Stoke City played out a pretty dire 0-0 draw at Villa Park that saw both sides extended their respective unbeaten Premier League runs.
A drab first-half was notable only for Steven N'Zonzi lashing out at Nathan Baker - an incident he was lucky referee Roger East missed as it was a clear sending off offence.
Christian Benteke passed up the most presentable chance of the game in the first minute of the second-half as Villa offered more of an attacking threat.
Darren Bent was introduced as Villa went for the win, but, if anything, the move unsettled the previously dangerous Benteke and both sides had to settle for a share of the spoils
A five goal drubbing against Manchester City on November 17 saw Paul Lambert’s men drop into the relegation zone but the Villans rallied to rise to 15th on the back of a three game unbeaten run as they welcomed an in-form Stoke side to Villa Park.
Tony Pulis’s men had taken maximum points from their last three Premier League fixtures and continued with Kenwyne Jones leading the line against a Villa side that was still without captain Ron Vlaar, who had failed to recover from a calf injury.
Pulis made one enforced change from last weekend’s win at West Brom with Dean Whitehead replacing the suspended Charlie Adam. Lambert named an unchanged side from the draw against QPR with Bent once again amongst the substitutes.
Despite that impressive run of results, the victory against West Brom was the Potters’ first success on the road this season and they were reticent during the opening exchanges at Villa Park with aggressive running from Gabriel Agbonlahor and Benteke causing the Stoke defence some early problems.
Villa spent the majority of the first half in the ascendancy but failed to put the goal of Asmir Begovic under any concerted threat – in fact, Villa’s clearest goalscoring opportunity came in the shape of a Benteke volley that Ryan Shawcross admirably put his body in the way to block.
That aside, Begovic was called into meaningful action only once – but it was a pretty rudimentary save from the Bosnian following a quick Villa break that culminated with Matthew Lowton coming back on himself and shooting from outside the box with his weaker left foot.
The Potters’ decision to sit deep and soak pressure served to frustrate their hosts but limited their own attacking endeavours as Jones cut an isolated figure up front for much of the first-half and they rarely threatened the goal of Brad Guzan.
Benteke, whose all-round play and link-up play with Agbonlahor justified the decision to leave Bent on the bench, passed up the opportunity to give his side the lead early in the second-half when he elected to side foot an opportunity when he would have been better served volleying as Begovic easily claimed.
Having been resolutely stout during the first-half, Tony Pulis’s side were more adventurous come the second period but the match failed to ignite and the second-half introductions of Peter Crouch and Bent failed to herald any goals.
Stoke’s best chance of the match fell to Jon Walters but he could only lash a Jones knockdown well wide under some pressure; while the hosts continued to toil, but, with the final ball all too often missing, rarely threatened.
Ryan Shotton can count himself as unlucky to be dismissed in the final minute for a second yellow card but will now miss Stoke’s next fixture at home against Everton, where they’ll look to extend their unbeaten league run to seven games.
Villa continue to pick up points as the pull away from the relegation zone, but will need to start improve their forward play to convert draws into wins. The result extends their unbeaten run to four games but three of those have been draws.
MAN OF THE MATCH:
Christian Benteke (Aston Villa) – Ran the Stoke defence ragged for much of the game, and, although his influence waned as the game progressed, his performance deserved a goal.
ASTON VILLA: Guzan 6, Lowton 6, Baker 6, Clark 6, Lichaj 6, Holman 5, Westwood 5, Bannan 6, Herd 6, Agbonlahor 6, Benteke 7. Subs: Ireland 6, Delph 6, Bent 5.
STOKE CITY: Begovic 6, Cameron 5, Huth 5, Shawcross 5, Shotton 5, Whelan 5, Nzonzi 4, Etherington 5, Whitehead 5, Jones 6, Walters 6. Subs: Crouch 5, Jerome 5.