Darren Bent came out of hibernation and was introduced to a standing ovation from all sides of the ground but the goal that the striker and the Aston Villa supporters craved failed to arrive on an afternoon when the outcome was miserably predictable. With Villa's paltry tally of 12 goals from 16 games the lowest in the Premier League and Stoke boasting a record eight clean sheets, the lack of entertainment was disappointing but no surprise.
Villa were the better side but this was painful to watch at times. Asmir Begovic was called into action on only a couple of occasions – and both of those were routine saves for the Stoke goalkeeper – while at the other end Brad Guzan may as well have taken the day off to go Christmas shopping.
Stoke, whose record of 14 goals from 16 games is marginally better than Villa's, played with little ambition throughout. Jonathan Walters flashed a shot wide in the second half and that was as much as we saw from the visitors as an attacking force.
Tony Pulis's side finished the game with 10 men, Ryan Shotton sent off in injury time for a second bookable offence, after Roger East, the referee, adjudged the Stoke full-back had tripped Fabian Delph. It was a harsh decision, with Delph appearing to take a tumble despite no contact.
"We're very disappointed [with the Shotton incident]," said Pulis, who also criticised the referee's failure to punish Ciaran Clark for a reckless challenge on Glenn Whelan at the end of the first half. "When you see a lad getting sent off for two bookables, which he can't appeal against, sometimes it's very hard to take."
As for Bent, the £24m striker could have been forgiven for wishing he had remained on the bench. Returning to first-team action for the first time since he came on as a substitute at Swindon in the League Cup at the end of October, Bent enjoyed only a couple of touches of the ball and, in a Villa team full of energy but bereft of creativity, there was not a sniff of goal.
If the fans' reaction suggested they were delighted to see him back, Paul Lambert made it clear that he was in no mood to discuss Bent at length.
Pressed on the subject of the striker's return, the Villa manager said: "I ain't answering any more questions on it. I answered about 305 the other night."
Lambert felt that Villa should have had a penalty early in the second half when Shotton nudged Gabriel Agbonlahor in the back, but otherwise there was little to shout about in a bleak game.
Christian Benteke's volley was blocked by Ryan Shawcross in the 12th minute and Begovic denied the Villa striker and Matthew Lowton in the second half, but that was as close as Villa came to a goal.
"It's not something I'm worried about because I know it will come," Lambert said when asked about Villa's lack of penetration.
"I've got the belief that we'll create, that we'll score."