Stoke City 0 Aston Villa 0

Aston Villa dropped two points in their challenge for a Champions League spot, but it could easily have been all three as Martin O'Neill's team survived a late surge by Stoke City before eventually drawing 0-0 at the Britannia Stadium.

Tony Pulis' team went close to sealing victory several times in the closing stages as substitute Ricardo Fuller and defenders Danny Higginbotham and Robert Huth almost broke the stalemate.

Glenn Whelan and Higginbotham returned from injury to boost Stoke's depleted ranks against a Villa side that are unbeaten in the Premier League this year.

The early sparring was low key for a West Midlands derby before Carlos Cuellar's crunching foul on Matthew Etherington earned an 11th-minute yellow card.

Villa also collected further yellow cards for Richard Dunne and James Milner for late tackles on Tuncay and Rory Delap respectively, as an untidy contest continued.

A 25-yard shot by Stiliyan Petrov, pushed wide by Thomas Sorensen, forced the first save of the match in the 27th minute as Villa showed some signs of forcing the pace.

But Stoke, as usual, were proving a tough nut to crack and the spring-heeled Etherington provided a threat on the break as he struck two shots wide of Brad Friedel's goal.

Supporters from both sides greeted the half-time whistle with lukewarm applause, no doubt believing the second half could only be better.

It certainly was and the serious action began in the 48th minute when a fabulous pass by Petrov sent Stewart Downing racing towards the Stoke penalty area.

Downing struck a venomous shot from 20 yards which hit the lurking John Carew and deflected into the side-netting, with the committed Sorensen diving in the opposite direction.

Pulis had seen enough by the 54th minute when he changed his strikeforce, bringing on Fuller and Dave Kitson for Mamady Sidibe and Tuncay.

A clearly unhappy Tuncay shook Fuller's hand before jogging straight to the dressing room, but his replacement had Stoke's first shot on target just a minute later.

Fuller ghosted in from the left flank, evading three Villa defenders along the way, but then scuffed a poor right-foot effort straight into Friedel's arms.

Stoke were now enjoying their best period of the game and Huth warmed Friedel's hands with a powerful strike from 20 yards.

It then needed a tremendous challenge by the impressive James Collins to deflect a Fuller shot over the bar after excellent set-up play by Kitson.

Pulis had expected his players to tire after their Wednesday night game at Burnley, but there was no sign of that as Higginbotham's shot was blocked by Stephen Warnock.

Higginbotham thrashed another effort wide as Stoke went for the win before Villa finally threatened four minutes from time when James Milner's free-kick curled a foot off target.

But Stoke finished the game on the front foot with Dunne deflecting Fuller's shot for a corner which resulted in Huth heading Whelan's delivery narrowly over the top.