STOKE CITY stretched their unbeaten run to six matches with a hard-earned goalless draw in the Barclays Premier League clash at Villa Park.
In a game of very few goalscoring opportunities, the Potters had little trouble in keeping their eighth clean sheet in 16 Premier League matches.
But they had few moments themselves to break the deadlock, although Jon Walters blazed a close range shot just wide in the closing stages.
As City resisted anything the home side could throw at them, they did have to play out the final few seconds of the game with ten men after Ryan Shotton was sent off for two bookable offences, although his second yellow was harsh.
This was the fourth successive game in a row that the two sides have battled out a draw and this uneventful affair in the West Midlands was hardly any better than last season’s encounters on Boxing Day and then Easter Monday.
It was hardly surprising that Tony Pulis handed the vacant midfield spot to Whitehead, following his matchwinning cameo performance at the Hawthorns, and his inclusion for the suspended Adam was City’s only change to the starting line-up.
After the Potters saw plenty of the ball in the opening exchanges, it was Villa who posed the first real threat as Bannan slipped a pass through to Benteke on a burst through the middle, but Shotton read the danger and made a telling interception.
Although the home side sustained the pressure, Begovic saved quite comfortably when Holman’s long range shot took a deflection off Whelan.
Shotton was called into action to make an important clearance when Agbonlahor rounded off a penetrating run down the right by lifting a cross to the far post in the direction of Benteke, but the full-back was there to turn it behind.
However, it took a last-ditch block by Shawcross to prevent Villa going in front from the corner as Benteke fired a close range volley goalbound after Baker’s header across the area had fallen to him, but City’s captain came to the rescue.
There was another scare for City as they failed to get the ball away with Bannan firing a low shot across goal but wide of the far post.
Both Premier League encounters between the two sides had been dour affairs last season and as the first half moved into its final, the two teams were struggling to provide any more in the way entertainment to warm the fans.
There was, however, a mad scramble in City’s area when a mistake by Whelan allowed the home side to pour forward as Lichaj drilled over a low cross that Huth did well to clear under pressure with Benteke hovering behind him.
The half finished on a sour note with players squaring up to each other after Westwood had lunged in with a challenge on Whelan, but it was Villa who were awarded the free kick with the referee deciding that Jones had pushed the defender.
Villa began the second half with greater purpose and Agbonlahor’s astute header found Benteke in space just inside the box, but the striker was unable to get sufficient power behind his shot and Begovic was well positioned to save.
The home side then had appeals for a penalty waved away when Agbonlahor went down as he tried to turn a Lowton cross goalbound, but television replays clearly showed that the Villa striker had merely missed his kick.
Whitehead, having done well to tidy up the initial danger, then got himself into trouble and City were relieved that it came to nothing.
After another uneventful period in the game, City threatened for the first time in the half as Walters burst down the right and whipped over a low cross in the direction of Jones, but Baker was there to turn it behind for a corner.
Although the Potters were unable to make much of that, a subsequent throw-in presented a good opportunity as Jones headed down Huth’s high ball into the box, but Walters lashed his close range shot wide of the target.
After Villa had introduced Bent and Ireland, much to the delight of the home supporters, Pulis also made his first change when he sent on Jerome in place of Etherington, meaning that Walters switched to the left side.
City then made a further change with Crouch replacing Jones and the England striker was soon in the action as he tried to set up an opportunity for Jerome on the edge of the box, but his flick didn’t fall for his strike partner.
Although both sides had one or two moments when they threatened to break the deadlock, there was little to trouble either goalkeeper.
But City had to play out the final few seconds with ten men after Shotton was sent off for a second bookable offence, but television replays backed the defender’s protests that he had not touched Delph as he went down.