Aston Villa edged seven points clear of the relegation zone last night yet it felt like two points dropped rather than one gained. Andreas Weimann, the 20-year-old Austrian, looked set to add another winner to his last-gasp goal against Fulham with a sublime finish but Robert Huth's equaliser for Stoke ensured Villa's 14th draw, the Premier League's highest total.
Huth's header was the 21st goal Alex McLeish's side have leaked from dead-ball deliveries during another campaign of underachievement, and the 20th Stoke have scored in such circumstances out of a total of only 32. Perhaps the impasse should not have been surprising, given that Villa's run is now only two wins in 13 games and that Stoke have just three over an identical period. Both clubs, however, can point to mitigating circumstances. This was Stoke's 51st match of a sapping season, 15 more than Villa, who have been severely depleted by illness and injury.
McLeish was disappointed another home fixture had gone by without a win and all the more so because he felt Stoke's goal should have been disallowed. "Huth had both hands on [James] Collins' shoulders so he couldn't get off the ground," the Villa manager said. "I also thought it was one of the softest free-kick awards I've seen all season."
Chief among the positives the Scot argued that Villa must accentuate was Weimann's goal. "It was a fantastic strike, truly inspirational," McLeish said. "It came out of nothing and he just manoeuvred himself into position for the curler. He's a great young prospect. Some players are great goalscorers, others are scorers of great goals. Andy showed he can be both."
His opposite number, Tony Pulis, also pronounced himself frustrated, claiming a late "winner" by Ryan Shawcross should have stood. The referee judged that Jermaine Pennant's corner kick had already drifted out of play. The Stoke manager added: "We lack a lot of things but one thing you can't criticise is our commitment. We've got six games left and our responsibility is to get as many points as possible, for ourselves and for the Coates family [Stoke's owners]."
A dull opening was enlivened by the applause that broke out in the 19th minute for Stiliyan Petrov – Villa's No 19 having begun his treatment for acute leukaemia – but neither team had established ascendancy before the hosts struck shortly after the half-hour.
As they built along their left, Stephen Warnock's short pass to Weimann found him working a sharp one-two with Stephen Ireland before shaping his body to lift an exquisite shot over Begovic from the edge of the 18-yard area.
As the younger, less physically imposing side, Villa inevitably found themselves on the back foot in the second half. Collins managed to get his head to most of Rory Delap's long throws, although the sight of Peter Crouch on the sidelines was a reminder of what Pulis had in reserve.
Agbonlahor's pace promised to earn Villa the breathing space of a 2-0 lead shortly before the hour mark. Burning off his marker in pursuit of a deftly volleyed through-ball by Barry Bannan, he slotted the ball past Begovic only to see it end up near the corner flag; the finish of a striker who has not scored in 17 Premier League matches.
Stoke deservedly levelled when Huth powered in Pennant's dubiously won free-kick, with Villa's woes compounded by injuries to Warnock (ankle) and Chris Herd (concussion). Pulis suggested Villa had "winnable" games remaining, although Sunday takes them to Manchester United.
Aston Villa: GIVEN 7/10, HUTTON 6, COLLINS 7, BAKER 6, LICHAJ 7, BANNAN 7, IRELAND 7, HERD 6, WARNOCK 6, AGBONLAHOR 6, WEIMANN 7
Stoke City: BEGOVIC 7, WILSON 6, HUTH 7, SHAWCROSS 6, SHOTTON 6, ETHERINGTON 7, PALACIOS 6, WHITEHEAD 6, DELAP 6, JONES 5, WALTERS 6
Scorers. Villa: Weimann 32. Stoke: Huth 71
Substitutes: Aston Villa Gardner 4 (Warnock, 59), N'Zogbia (Bannan, 74), Heskey (Herd, 88). Stoke Pennant 6 (Etherington, 62), Crouch 5 (Jones, 62), Fuller (Delap, 81).
Booked: Aston Villa Warnock, Lichaj, Collins. Stoke none.Man of the match Weimann. Match rating 6/10. Possession: Aston Villa 48% Stoke 52%.
Attempts on target: Aston Villa 3 Stoke 3.
Referee M Dean (Wirral). Attendance 30,100.