Bent strikes to deny Potters

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.