In his own words, Michael Chopra said that he entered the Sporting Chance clinic in Hampshire this month "to sort myself out". Marital problems, leading to others, had caused the 24-year-old Geordie to admit his head was swimming and he admirably sought help. Payback for his honesty came here yesterday when Chopra rose from the bench to score two late goals to give Sunderland their first home win of the season. Bearing in mind his Newcastle United past, Chopra was a controversial signing 14 months ago from Cardiff, but he has come to Roy Keane's rescue on several occasions since and yesterday can be added to that list.
Keane was a portrait of repressed frustration as he glared from the touchline. Sunderland were flat, in formation and spirit and if any side was going to win it was Middlesbrough. But for Stewart Downing's erratic penalty-taking that would surely have been the case. In the 75th minute – six minutes before Chopra's opener – Downing struck a woeful spot-kick yards over the crossbar. It was the second time in three games that Downing has missed a penalty.
"The whole emotion of the stadium changed," said Boro manager Gareth Southgate. "It gave Sunderland a huge lift." Suddenly Sunderland had a second wind and, thanks to Chopra, two goals in the last 10 minutes. With a suspension from pre-season also affecting him, this was Chopra's first appearance.
"There was never any question about his character," Keane said of his striker. "It's been a difficult time and the suspension didn't help but this week 'Chops' has looked back to his old self. To be a top player your life has to be pretty decent off the pitch. Chops's clearly wasn't. I'm not knocking him for that. I've been there. I hope he learns from my mistakes."
Keane acknowledged that his side "rode our luck" and that Downing's penalty was "the turning point". Southgate agreed but there was a metaphorical arm around Downing. "He's well in credit with us, he's like the others, devastated. I thought we controlled the game for a long time. If we'd drawn, we'd have still come off disappointed." The afternoon had started badly for Southgate, Mido straining a groin during the warm-up. It then finished badly, yet much in between offered encouragement for Boro's fans.
Downing, placed close to Mido's stand-in Afonso Alves, was central to most of it. With the gifted Adam Johnson taking his role on the left wing, Boro had five Academy products in their line-up and their understanding was evident. Boro arguably had a first penalty denied them on 11 minutes when Alves was obstructed by Teemu Tainio. Craig Gordon then made a smart stop from Downing, and saved from Alves.
Towards the end of the first half, Tainio went off clutching a shoulder and on came Chopra. It was not until the 62nd minute, when Boro keeper Ross Turnbull dropped the ball, that Sunderland threatened properly. Djibril Cissé's 20-yard shot was cleared off the line by Emanuel Pogatetz.
Turnbull made a flying stop from Kieran Richardson but Aliadière was then tripped by Nyron Nosworthy. Downing had his penalty and Sunderland their own sporting chance. Chopra took his, first finishing off a sharp one-two with Richardson as David Wheater closed in and after Nosworthy had produced two vital blocks, Chopra was teed up by the influential Steed Malbranque for a tap-in.Reuse content