Michael Chopra put his personal problems behind him to fire Sunderland to a derby victory over Middlesbrough.
Chopra takes his chance
SUNDERLAND // Just when he thought his luck had turned, Egyptian international Mido's injury curse struck again and this time before a ball had been kicked in anger in this Wear-Tees derby. Mido admits that Roy Keane tried to lure him to Sunderland over a memorable lunch. That was in the summer of last year before he opted to join Boro instead in a transfer from Spurs, and since then Mido has often had the appearance of someone who has lunched too well. The striker, 25, saw his first season on Teesside blighted by injury and a tendency to pile on the pounds. But the new slimline Mido had reaped the benefits of a rigorous close-season fitness regime with four goals this season - until yesterday. Boro boss Gareth Southgate, already without Turkish striker Tuncay through injury, was forced to reverse his decision to demote £12.7million (Dh85m) club-record signing Afonso Alves to the bench when Mido hobbled out of the warm-up with a groin strain. But Boro ultimately paid the price as England winger Stewart Downing blazed a 75th-minute penalty over the bar and Sunderland substitute Michael Chopra produced a double strike. Something had to give here - Sunderland had lost both home games this season, while Boro had been beaten in their two away outings. Chopra was the difference. The striker returned after a three-match ban for being sent off in pre-season - and a spell at the Sporting Chance clinic to tackle "personal issues'' - to hand Sunderland the spoils. Downing suffered contrasting fortunes after Nyron Nosworthy was adjudged to have brought down Jeremie Aliadiere. It was Downing's second spot-kick failure this season.
But that was Chopra's cue to seize his moment. Boro centre-back Robert Huth was fortunate not to be dismissed in the 79th minute when, looking like the last man, he picked up a yellow card for pullling back Chopra. But two minutes later, Kieran Richardson slid the ball to Chopra and he beat keeper Ross Turnbull, earning a nonsense of a booking from referee Howard Webb for his celebration. In injury time, when Daryl Murphy's ball ricocheted off Boro skipper Emanuel Pogatetz and broke kindly to Steed Malbranque, Chopra was waiting for the square pass to finish. Chopra was last night nursing a dead leg, and boss Roy Keane, who signed him from Cardiff last summer for £5m, said: "He's feeling sorry for himself with a bag of ice - but he's obviously pleased. "It's been a difficult time for him and the suspension didn't help, but he's looked back to his old self. He's had funny stuff going on off the field. If you want to be a top sportsman, you have to be focused and Chops clearly wasn't. I've been there. I had a lifestyle that was very questionable and hopefully he can learn from my mistakes. "It was touch and go whether he was going to be involved, but in training yesterday the game was 3-1 - and Chops scored three.'' Southgate admitted: "We didn't take our chances. It's very hard for everybody to take.''