Stoke hold Villa in entertaining draw
Stoke prevented Aston Villa from gaining ground on Tottenham in 4th with a 0-0 draw at the Britannia. In a game of few chances the sides were evenly matched although the Potters will be disappointed they didn`t make their second half pressure count. The draw also leaves Stoke a point closer to the magic 40 mark.
Stoke boss Tony Pulis made two changes from the side that drew at Burnley in mid-week. Danny Higginbotham returned after a back injury and partnered Abdoulaye Faye at centre-half, Andy Wilkinson was the man left out as Pulis decided the 25 year-old needed a rest. The other change saw Glenn Whelan replace Liam Lawrence. Whelan successfully battled through a fitness test and lined up with Rory Delap in central midfield.
The home side were the quicker out the blocks and Delap`s throws were asking plenty of questions of the solid Villa defence. Whelan flashed an effort over the bar and Tuncay and Etherington caused problems down the left.
Referee, Kevin Friend punished some poor Villa tackling and rightly booked Carlos Cuellar, James Milner and Richard Dunne. However Villa should have taken the lead through defender James Collins. The Welshman, who opted for a move to Villa over Stoke in the summer, reached Stewart Downing`s in-swinging corner first and glanced his header wide when he should have done better.
Long-ranged shots were the best opportunities as both sides cancelled each other in a scrappy first half. Etherington went close for Stoke before Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov forced an awkward save from Sorensen. The Bulgarian`s 25 yard effort bounced just in-front of the keeper and it took a high level of concentration from Stoke`s number 1 to stop it from going in.
On the right of Stoke`s midfield Dean Whitehead impressed despite playing out of position. The former Sunderland captain was drafted out to the right flank to combat the pace and trickery of England hopefuls Ashley Young and Stewart Downing. However Etherington on the left side was making more of a claim for an England spot then either of the aforementioned Villa players with some bursting runs and vicious shots that had American Brad Friedel worried.
After the break it was Martin O`Neil`s side that looked more likely to break the deadlock as their international stars took the initiative and took the game to the Potters. John Carew made a nuisance of himself all afternoon and Abdoulaye Faye and Danny Higginbotham struggled to contain him despite having the better of his strike partner Emile Heskey.
The turning point of the game for Stoke came in the 52nd minute as Pulis surprisingly decided on a double substitution upfront. The in-effective and tired looking Mama Sidibe was replaced by Dave Kitson and Tuncay was replaced by Ricardo Fuller. The Turkish international showed his disgust at being replaced by storming down the tunnel.
The new strike partnership injecting some much needed life into the hosts and Fuller almost made the perfect introduction. The Jamaican beat both Collins and Dunne but when in site of goal he scuffed his shot straight at Friedel. Then just minutes later the American kept out a vicious Huth volley from 25 yards.
Stoke had their tails up and although they bombarded the Villa box, both Collins and Dunne showed why they have such a sound defensive record as they dealt with everything in the air. Fuller though was a different prospect and he caused them all kinds of problems as he and the energetic Etherington looked likely to break through.
On the break Villa looked dangerous as Milner and substitute Gabriel Agbonlahor combined to almost set-up Ashley Young to score. However his driven effort cross-goal was almost deflected in by Delap.
The Potters almost won it in the last few minutes as Huth rose highest to connect with Whelan`s corner but his effort went just over when he perhaps should have scored. The result leaves Stoke still in 11th place on 36 points. Next up is a home match with Spurs next Saturday.