Match Report: Aston Villa have League's worst goal-drought with Darren back but barren

Aston Villa 0 Stoke City 0

villa park

Aston Villa may be moving in the right direction in the view of Paul Lambert but the inescapable flaw in their manager's argument is that they do not score enough. Even Darren Bent, introduced 20 minutes into the second half for his first Premier League appearance for six weeks, could not change that. Their 12 goals from 16 matches is the lowest in the division, behind even bottom-of-the-table Queens Park Rangers.

In a bad-tempered match which ended with a red card for the Stoke right-back Ryan Shotton, Villa could find no way past the twin pillars of Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth at the heart of the Stoke defence. Lambert may applaud his young side for their energy and the quality of their passing but they remain close to the bottom three with a difficult run-up to Christmas. After Norwich away in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday, which will be a test with Lambert's former club picking up under Chris Hughton, Villa travel to Liverpool and then Chelsea in the Premier League before hosting Tottenham on Boxing Day. With those matches in mind, five points from nine against Reading, QPR and Stoke might be considered a disappointing return.

It again raised the question of why Bent, the club's record signing, has become such a fringe figure, but Lambert refused to reopen the debate. Asked a third question about the England striker at the post-match press conference, he put his foot down. "Listen, I'm going to stop you there because I'm not going to answer any more questions about that," he told his interrogator. "I'm not overly worried about the goals because the way we are playing, I know they will come," he said.

Villa were up against opponents who are making a speciality of keeping clean sheets. This was Stoke's eighth of the season, a record that is unmatched. Yet it would have been fanciful to expect anything else. Tony Pulis's gameplan for the season has avoiding relegation as priority and the first principle of the plan is to avoid defeat, as evidenced in the tactical changes he made with this contest less than a quarter of the way through, when he responded to Villa's adventurous 3-4-3 by switching to three in central defence in a set-up that left Kenwyne Jones largely isolated up front.

But after three consecutive wins, culminating in the rarity of an away success at West Bromwich Albion, Pulis was more than happy with a point. "Villa are a young team with plenty of enthusiasm and energy and the way they have played against some of the top sides recently and to come away from two Midlands derbies with two clean sheets and four points is a great tribute to the players," he said. The only surprise about Villa was that they matched Stoke for muscle, perhaps more than matched them at times. Ciaran Clark went through Glenn Whelan with a reckless challenge on the halfway line just before half-time and, in another incident, Eric Lichaj clattered into Shotton on the touchline, leading with his arm, yet neither was booked.

There were no cards at all until Shotton picked up his first, for a foul on Stephen Ireland, after 74 minutes and Shotton was unlucky to be sent off, given that the replays of the alleged foul on Fabian Delph that brought his second yellow, in stoppage time, appeared to involve minimal contact. Such chances as there were fell to Christian Benteke, after 12 minutes, when Shawcross kept Asmir Begovic out of the action with a superb block, and to Benteke again after 35, when Whelan did enough to prevent a clean strike. Jonathan Walters might have stolen the points for Stoke in the second half when a Jones header set him up, but Nathan Baker, who was the rock of Villa's defence, denied him.

Aston Villa (3-4-2-1): Guzan; Herd, Clark, Baker; Lowton, Westwood, Bannan (Delph, 78), Lichaj; Agbonlahor (Bent, 65), Holman (Ireland, 65); Benteke.

Stoke (4-5-1): Begovic; Shotton, Shawcross, Huth, Cameron; Etherington (Jerome, 67), Whitehead, Whelan, N'Zonzi, Walters; Jones (Crouch, 75).

Referee: R East

Man of the match: Baker (Aston Villa)

Match rating: 5/10

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas