Premier League - Villa stand firm to deny Stoke

Mon, 26 Dec 21:53:00 2011

A largely dreary encounter between Stoke City and Aston Villa was only briefly enlightened when both sides hit the woodwork in a 0-0 Premier League draw at the Britannia Stadium.

Stoke 0 Aston Villa 0

Alex McLeish’s Villa, who approached the game with a record of just three wins in 15 Premier League games, threatened in the first half when Emile Heskey rattled the post with a header from a corner.

In what was a match devoid of imagination or quality, and with the ball spending long periods in the air, Stoke then saw Marc Wilson strike the underside of the bar with a header, only for Gabriel Agbonlahor to just about prevent the ball from crossing the line.

With both clubs missing their record signings and international strikers in Peter Crouch and Darren Bent, the contest meandered to an unsurprising 0-0 draw that leaves Stoke in eighth place and Villa in 12th.

One statistic glared out menacingly for Villa pre-match: McLeish’s side had conceded the highest percentage of goals from set-pieces in the Premier League, while Stoke City had, unsurprisingly, scored the highest percentage.

With Ryan Shotton flinging in a succession of long throws from the right, central defenders Richard Dunne and James Collins were on high alert and neither picked up Robert Huth when he headed over the bar from a cross from Matthew Etherington in the opening stages.

However, counter-intuitively, it was Villa who went the closest to opening the scoring from a set-piece in the first half when Heskey got ahead of his marker to glance a header against the outside of the post from a corner after 22 minutes.

The ball spent an inordinate amount of time in the air and those in attendance at the Britannia Stadium were subjected to a desperately poor first half. Pulses were briefly raised when Huth, again, headed over from a Dean Whitehead free-kick.

Stoke, who surrendered a four-game winning streak when losing 3-0 to Manchester City last time out, were struggling to get their strikers into play and were fortunate not to see midfielder Wilson Palacios punished on either occasion when he first ploughed into Stiliyan Petrov from behind and then hacked Charles N’Zogbia down.

Unusually under McLeish, Villa possessed the more invention in the first half and went close on 40 minutes when Ciaran Clark slipped in a pass to Petrov, who thumped his shot wide on the turn from a tight angle.

Meanwhile, when Stoke did get a sniff of a chance after Kenwyne Jones beat Collins in the air and looked to get a shot away, Brad Guzan rushed off his line to smother the ball and snuff out the danger.

Half-time substitute Nathan Delfouneso, who replaced the injured Heskey, almost scored in the opening minutes of the second period when getting his toe to a cross from Agbonlahor.

Minutes later, Charles N’Zogbia collected the ball wide on the left, cut inside Jonathan Woodgate and thumped an effort just wide of the near post.

However, with 20 minutes remaining it was Stoke who went closest to opening the scoring, and indeed felt that they should have done so.

Wilson met a corner from the left with a firm header that struck the underside of the bar and Agbonlahor cleared off the line with his chest, with replays indicating that the entirety of the ball had not crossed the line, but only just.

Villa briefly threatened when a free-kick from N’Zogbia bounced in front of Sorensen and caused the keeper to fumble, but Stoke finished the stronger side as they bombarded the Villa box with set-pieces and throws, only to be denied by the impressive pair of Dunne and Collins.

Tom Adams / Eurosport

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