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

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