By Rob Bishop
Darren Bent claimed his seventh goal in 12 games as Villa edged closer to Barclays Premier League safety with a hard-earned point against FA Cup finalists Stoke City.
The club's record signing equalised with a superb header just before half-time to bring Gary McAllister's side level after they had toiled for most of the opening period and trailed to a 20th-minute Kenwyne Jones header.
Villa were well on top throughout the second period but were unable to break down a resolute Potters defence.
Even so, Bent's header was one to savour and it would certainly have received a seal of approval from European Cup winner Peter Withe, who watched from the stand after receiving a standing ovation before kick-off.
Although Villa did most of the early pressing, Stoke were twice close to scoring in the space of a minute after Rory Delap launched his first long throw of the game.
The ball was partially cleared, but only as far as Robert Huth, whose rising left-foot drive was tipped over by Brad Friedel - who made an even better save when Jones met Matthew Etherington's corner with a powerful and well-directed header.
It looked a certain goal until the American dived to his right to claw the ball away.
But in the 20th minute, the visitors were ahead. Another of Delap's specials was met by Jones, who used the pace of the ball to steer it beyond Friedel's reach and into the top right corner.
A touch of frustration had begun to creep into Villa's approach work, with Luke Young well off target when he tried his luck with a low shot from outside the penalty area, although Emile Heskey was only just too high with a header when he climbed in front of his marker to make good contact with Kyle Walker's right-wing cross.
Villa were convinced they should have had a penalty when Bent appeared to be pushed by Marc Wilson, only for referee Chris Foy waved aside the striker's appeal.
But there was no argument about Bent's 43rd-minute equaliser, the striker stooping in front of Stoke skipper Ryan Shawcross on the penalty spot to divert Kyle Walker's cross against the right-hand post, the ball just creeping over the line before nestling inside the opposite upright.
The visitors again provided stubborn resistance at the start of the second half, although Richard Dunne almost opened up the Potters' defence with a forceful run which ended with a pass which was just too far ahead of Bent.
Then Stewart Downing unleashed a fierce right-foot drive which struck Huth and very nearly ended up in the net as it deflected narrowly wide for a corner.
It was the last meaningful contribution by Downing, the winger making way for Marc Albrighton on 66 minutes.
The youngster was quickly in the thick of the action, too, delivering a dangerous cross and then making a fine run into the heart of the Stoke defence.
Although he was tackled, the ball broke to Dunne, who set up Nigel Reo-Coker for a low centre which Heskey stabbed wide at the near post.
Although Stoke had barely threatened since the interval, substitute Ricardo Fuller put the ball in the net from close range in the 79th minute following a Jones flick, and Villa were relieved to see the flag go up for offside.
Villa then sent on Gabby Agbonlahor in place of Emile Heskey, and the switch almost paid dividends when he met Albrighton's deep centre with a far post header which, unfortunately, wasn't powerful enough for trouble goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.
VILLA: Friedel; L Young, Dunne, Collins, Walker; Downing [Albrighton], Young, Petrov, Reo-Coker; Heskey [Agbonlahor], Bent. Subs: Marshall, Clark, Cuellar, Pires, Makoun.
STOKE: Begovic, Huth, Shawcross, Wilkinson, Whelan, Wilson, Pennant, Delap [Fuller], Etherington [Whitehead], Jones [Diao], Walters. Subs: Sorensen, Collins, Faye, Pugh.