Aston Villa 1-1 Stoke City
Darren Bent was on target again as Aston Villa were held to a 1-1 draw by Stoke in the Premier League at Villa Park on Saturday.
Absent Villa boss Gerard Houllier, who is recovering from chest pains in hospital, paid Sunderland an initial £18million for Bent in January and here he scored his seventh goal in 12 games for Villa.
That cancelled out the opening goal from another former Black Cats forward in Stoke’s Kenwyne Jones.
Villa have now taken eight points from the last four games to virtually ensure another season of top-flight football.
But FA Cup finalists Stoke would have been happy with a share of the spoils after losing their seven previous away games.
Stoke looked the more dangerous side in the first half and Villa were indebted to another fine display from keeper Brad Friedel.
The home side dominated the second period territorially but seldom looked like breaching the Stoke rearguard.
Stoke were first to settle and twice came close to taking the lead.
A long throw from Rory Delap was flicked back by Jones to Robert Huth, whose fierce shot on the half-volley from the edge of the box was tipped over the bar by Friedel.
Then Friedel produced a superb reflex save to keep out Jones’ powerful header from a Matthew Etherington corner.
The Villa fans were becoming frustrated at the length of time Rory Delap was taking over his long throws.
But it was from one of them that Jones broke the deadlock after 20 minutes.
The Stoke striker climbed above the Villa defence to deflect his header past Friedel into the corner of the net.
It was 31 minutes before Villa created a semblance of a chance but Emile Heskey could not keep his header down from Kyle Walker’s right-wing centre.
Bent appealed in vain for a penalty after claiming he was pushed by Huth when attacking a cross from Nigel Reo-Coker.
It was largely against the run of play that Bent brought Villa back on level terms with another display of his knack in front of goal.
Walker supplied the cross from the right and Bent’s glancing header from 15 yards out beat the dive of Asmir Begovic, via the post, after he had got in front of Ryan Shawcross.
Villa tried to build up some momentum at the start of the second half but Stewart Downing was crowded out on the edge of the Stoke box.
Richard Dunne had the chance to test Begovic after the Stoke defence backed off.
But he tried instead to find Heskey with a deft pass and the opportunity went begging.
Marc Wilson became the first player to be yellow-carded after 56 minutes for a touch-line challenge on Downing.
Glenn Whelan followed him into referee Chris Foy’s notebook seven minutes later for time-wasting.
Begovic was relieved to see a deflected shot from Downing fly wide after he had been wrong-footed.
Heskey then slid in at the near post to make contact with a low Nigel Reo-Coker centre but his effort went wide.
Stoke substitute Ricardo Fuller had the ball in the net from a Jones flick-on but had strayed marginally offside.
Stoke tried to wind down the clock in the closing stages and Begovic was booked for time-wasting.
The visitors ended the game with 10 men after using their three subs when Fuller was stretchered off with what looked like an Achilles injury.