STOKE CITY claimed their first League point on their travels in 2011 to edge a step closer to safety following a hard-fought game with Aston Villa.
Record signing Kenwyne Jones headed them into a 19th minute lead with his third goal in as many games, but City were pegged back by an equaliser from England striker Darren Bent three minutes before half-time at Villa Park.
Tony Pulis' side were forced to defend for long periods in the second half as Villa pressed hard for a winner, but they held out to claim a 1-1 draw that moves them to 39 points and within touching distance of a fourth season in the Premier League.
With Wigan losing and both Wolves and Blackpool drawing, City now know that a win on Tuesday evening will virtually guarantee their safety.
The draw came at a cost though with striker Ricardo Fuller stretchered off in the closing stages with what appeared to be a serious calf injury.
As expected, Pulis made only one change to his starting line-up with Begovic returning in place of Sorensen, but there was a setback when it was revealed just before the kick-off that Carew was ineligible to feature against Villa.
In the hot conditions, the game got off to a slow start with neither side creating much of a threat although Wilson had to be alert to clear Ashley Young's left wing cross with Heskey trying to get on the end of it twelve yards out.
Villa were then awarded a free kick when Delap fouled Petrov, but the home side failed to make the most of it and Downing's tame shot from long range didn't trouble Begovic as it rolled well wide of the target in the fifth minute.
City then sprung into life and in a period of sustained pressure went close to going in front on two occasions, only to be denied by Friedel.
The experienced 'keeper pulled off a one-handed save to keep out a Huth volley from the edge of the box after Jones had headed on a Delap throw-in.
Then, from the resulting corner whipped in by Etherington from the right hand side, Jones thought he had scored as he rose to meet it with a firm header, but Friedel's reflexes were equal to it as he flung himself low to his right to push the ball away.
City kept up the pressure and forced six successive corners as the Villa defence struggled to deal with the aerial presence of the visitors.
It was no surprise then that they went into the lead in the 19th minute when Delap launched another long throw-in to the edge of the six yard box and Jones glanced his header past the advancing Friedel and into the far corner of the net.
The Potters then looked comfortable for a period as they soaked up any Villa pressure and looked to catch the home side on the counter attack.
It took the home side some time to carve out a meaningful chance which came when Heskey rose to head over the bar from Walker cross.
Villa's frustration showed when Luke Young ventured forward from his left back role and tried his luck from long range only for it to roll harmlessly wide.
Shawcross produced a vital interception to prevent Bent breaking clear onto a Petrov pass and Heskey tried a first time shot which was off target.
The home side were beginning to exert more pressure and City knew that Bent only needed one sniff of goal for them to draw level.
Sure enough, three minutes before half time, the England striker nipped in front of Shawcross to meet Walker's cross with his head and it beat the dive of Begovic, hit the inside of his right hand post and crept inside the other post.
It was rough justice on City, but showed how lethal Bent can be in front of goal and they had to pick themselves up after that setback.
They almost got themselves back in front just before the break as Huth rose to meet another long throw from Delap but headed it over the bar.
Walters had the ball in the net shortly after the restart, but was ruled to be offside when Wilkinson lofted the ball into the area as the Villa defence stormed out after clearing the danger which was posed by another long throw-in from Delap.
Huth felt he should have been awarded a free kick when he tried to play in Jones, but Dunne took advantage by bursting forward and fortunately with City stretched at the back, his attempted pass into Bent was deflected to Begovic.
City were now having to defend for sustained spells and Begovic was relieved to see a Downing shot flash wide after it had taken a deflection.
That was the last action though for the England winger who made way for Albrighton in the first tactical switch made by either manager.
Villa were launching wave after wave of attack and there were some anxious moments for City, especially when Reo-Coker was released down the right and his low cross was met at the near post by the incoming Heskey whose shot flew wide.
City then made a couple of changes themselves in quick succession as Whitehead and Fuller replaced the tiring Etherington and Delap.
For the second time in the half, the Potters had the ball in the net only for it to be ruled for offside when Fuller latched onto a Whitehead pass which was flicked into his path by Jones and the substitute slotted his shot past Friedel.
Begovic was booked for taking too much time over his goal kicks and with the clock ticking down Pulis brought on Diao for Jones.
The Potters almost paid a price for standing off Villa too much as Albrighton was eventually allowed to send a cross from the left but substitute Agbonlahor's header at the far post finished up in the grateful arms of Begovic.
City had to finish the game with ten men after Fuller was stretchered off after lengthy treatment for what appeared to be a calf injury.