It was billed as a contest between two in-form sides but Aston Villa could only hold visiting Stoke to a goalless draw on Saturday.
Both teams came into the encounter unbeaten in three league matches, but could only play out a 0-0 draw – the fourth draw in a row between the sides.
The hosts began without captain Ron Vlaar – out for his third successive game with a calf injury – while there was once again only a place on the bench for the club’s record signing, Darren Bent.
Stoke, meanwhile, had a clean bill of health but were missing Charlie Adam through suspension and Peter Crouch was selected as a substitute.
To the delight of the home fans, Villa began splendidly, forcing an early corner after barely a minute’s play and going on to enjoy 70 percent of possession in the opening 10 minutes.
Christian Benteke imposed himself to hold the ball up to good effect early on for the hosts and Tony Pulis’ men barely got a look in for the duration of the first half.
But the home side’s frantic early pace soon settled and the prospect of a bore draw became more inevitable by the minute.
Paul Lambert’s men have struggled for goals this season – notching just 12 in total so far, with an unhealthy goal difference of -11 to come with it – and for all their dominance, any early threat of a football match breaking out soon disappeared with a whimper.
After an uneventful conclusion to the opening half, the hosts were determined to begin the second period as quickly as they had the first, but Benteke hit a weak volley straight at the grateful Asmir Begovic after being played in by Kyle Lowton.
Five minutes later, Villa applied the greatest amount of pressure so far, peppering the Stoke goal with shots and crosses in abundance and also having a penalty appeal turned down after Gabriel Agbonlahor was brought to the ground.
In truth, the Villains never looked like scoring, but at least they did everything but. Stoke’s first attempt on target only came after 67 minutes – and Jonathan Walters’ wild shot found itself closer to the stadium roof than the goalposts.
Sixty-six minutes in, Lambert, it seems, had finally given in. On came number nine Bent.
And the England international’s willingness to get forward was evident from the off, yet now it was no longer a case of the wrong personnel but rather inadequate service to the front man.
Ten minutes later, Crouch came on against his old club as Pulis showed his first signs of going for all three points.
But, alas, it was to no avail as both sides played out an uneventful draw and Stoke saw Ryan Shotton get sent off in injury time.
Impressively, this was Stoke’s eighth clean sheet of the season. But for Paul Lambert and his lacklustre Villa side, four games unbeaten will never have seemed so disappointing.
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