Villa and Stoke in dire stalemate

Aston Villa missed the chance to reduce their deficit in the race for fourth place after being held to a goalless draw at Stoke on Saturday.

Last Updated: 13/03/10 at 17:22 Post Comment

Tuncay: Battles with Downing

Tuncay: Battles with Downing

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The Britannia Stadium has become a tough venue for most visiting sides but for a team with aspirations of mixing it with Europe's elite next season Villa did not test goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen nearly enough.

Closest they came to making a breakthrough was three minutes after half-time when Stewart Downing's shot inadvertently deflected off team-mate John Carew but hit the side-netting with Sorensen wrong-footed.

With fourth-placed Tottenham winning earlier in the day the gap between them and Villa, in seventh, is now six points - although Martin O'Neill's team have two matches in hand.

If they are to make a bid for the top four, however, they are going to have to find a way of grinding out results in matches such as these.

So poor was the game that when the public address system, 15 minutes into the second half, advised one fan to attend hospital immediately as his wife had gone into labour there must have been plenty of supporters wishing they also had an excuse to leave early.

The first incident of note came in the 11th minute when Carlos Cuellar was booked for a lunging challenge on Matt Etherington as the winger tried to escape down the left touchline.

Ashley Young's near-post cross forced Danny Higginbotham to concede a corner six minutes later and James Collins' glancing header flew wide of the far post from Downing's cross.

Etherington then screwed a shot off target from the edge of the penalty area as both sides struggled to create anything resembling a clear-cut chance.

Richard Dunne and James Milner were booked in close succession for fouls on Tuncay Sanli and Rory Delap but on both occasions Stoke failed to threaten from the free-kicks.

The first shot on target came in the 27th minute when Stiliyan Petrov's low drive from outside the penalty area was saved low to his left by Sorensen.

Milner then flashed a shot on the turn over the crossbar after Downing threaded a pass down the inside-left channel into the penalty area, with Etherington next to shoot wide from 25 yards for Stoke.

The efforts typified a first half in which neither side gained proper control to take advantage.

Just after the restart Villa almost opened the scoring when Downing advanced before unleashing a shot which had Sorensen diving to his left before the ball deflected off Carew and flew into the near-post side-netting.

Thirteen minutes into the second half Pulis' double substitution did not please the home side but it was at least a positive move.

Britannia favourite Tuncay was replaced by Ricardo Fuller and Mamady Sidibe by Dave Kitson as Stoke's front two were changed.

Much has been made - most of it by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger - of Stoke's physical approach but when Warnock went into referee Kevin Friend's notebook for a tackle on Dean Whitehead the bookings count was 4-0 to Villa with less than an hour gone.

Fuller's first action saw him run parallel with the 18-yard line trailing three Villa players behind him before bobbling a shot into the arms of Brad Friedel.

The lack of quality was highlighted by Downing who seemed surprised when Warnock's left-wing cross reached him at the far post and his first touch bounced six yards away.

Fuller's cross-shot from the left had Brad Friedel at full-stretch to tip it away from the run of Glen Whelan as Stoke upped the tempo in the last quarter of the match.

Petrov became Villa's fifth booking for a body-check on Etherington and from the resulting free-kick James Collins' desperate block deflected Fuller's 10-yard shot over the crossbar.

Stoke continued to press and Warnock's diving tackle denied Higginbotham from a narrow angle.

Kitson's foul on Milner gave the England international a shooting opportunity 25 yards out but he curled the free-kick just wide.

Stoke defender Robert Huth could have snatched a win in the final minute but headed Etherington's corner over.

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