Shotton red card the 'highlight' in dour encounter
Aston Villa 0-0 Stoke
STOKE defender Ryan Shotton was controversially sent off in stoppage time in an instantly forgettable Premier League goalless draw at Aston Villa.
Shotton was given his marching orders by referee Roger East for a second bookable offence, but replays showed he made no contact on Villa substitute Fabian Delph.
Villa striker Darren Bent made his return to action as the home side's youngsters stood up to the physical challenge presented by Stoke.
Bent made his first appearance for nearly six weeks midway through the second period, but was unable to inspire Villa to gain the three points.
Paul Lambert's side were well worthy of a share of the spoils, though, as they extended their unbeaten run to four games and edged further away from the relegation zone.
Villa's 'tiny tots' looked ready-made for Stoke to impose their physical presence on them, but they passed the challenge with flying colours.
The back three of Chris Herd, Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker coped admirably with the threat of Kenwyne Jones and then former Villa striker Peter Crouch.
Stoke will also take heart from extending their unbeaten run to six games, from which they have collected 14 points, and they have now registered eight clean sheets this season.
Villa began brightly and Gabriel Agbonlahor picked out the run of top scorer Christian Benteke into the Stoke box, but Shotton was alert to the situation and tidied up.
The hosts forced three early corners, although Stoke dealt comfortably enough with Barry Bannan's crosses into the danger area.
But the Potters were indebted to a crucial block from skipper Ryan Shawcross to keep out Benteke's close-range volley after Clark had headed the ball back across goal.
Matthew Lowton then had the confidence to cut inside and create space for himself but his left-footed drive did not extend Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.
Bannan then curled a free-kick over the bar after Benteke had been brought down by Geoff Cameron 20 yards out.
Villa knocked the ball around in confident style, with Stoke content to soak up the pressure and try to hit the home side on the counter-attack.
Stoke midfielder Steven N'Zonzi appeared to flick a hand in the face of Villa centre-back Baker in the build-up to a Potters corner, but both players were spoken to by referee Roger East.
Villa were looking the more likely to break the deadlock. Robert Huth cut out a low Eric Lichaj cross aimed at Benteke, who had another effort blocked from Brett Holman's low ball.
Stoke were incensed by a centre-circle challenge on Glenn Whelan by Clark in first-half stoppage time, but it escaped any punishment.
Villa started the second half brightly and Begovic went down to his left to cling onto Benteke's volley after Lowton had flicked on a Bannan cross.
Tempers were becoming frayed and Villa keeper Brad Guzan squared up to Jones after being barged into when collecting a cross.
Benteke continued to ask questions of Stoke and some trickery inside the area created half a chance, but Huth reacted quickly to block his shot on the turn.
Lambert brought on Bent and Stephen Ireland for Agbonlahor and Holman midway through the second half while Stoke replaced Matthew Etherington and Jones with Cameron Jerome and Crouch.
Shotton became the first player to be yellow-carded after 75 minutes after fouling Ireland.
Then came his stoppage-time red card, although there was no time left for Villa to cash in on their numerical advantage.