Sunderland striker Michael Chopra made amends for a miserable start to the season as his double-strike clinched a 2-0 victory over Middlesbrough on Saturday.
Chopra missed the first three matches of the campaign through suspension after being sent off in a pre-season friendly, but that was the least of his problems.
The former Cardiff star has spent time in the Sporting Chance clinic, which specialises in helping sports people deal with addictions, following a stormy period in his personal life.
He put those problems behind him at the Stadium of Light to give Roy Keane’s side their first home league win since April, when they also defeated local rivals Middlesbrough.
Keane had started with Chopra on the bench but sent him on before the break after an injury reshuffle. It proved an inspired decision.
After Middlesbrough winger Stewart Downing missed a second half penalty, super-sub Chopra netted twice in the final nine minutes.
Middlesbrough had been disappointing in their loss at Portsmouth last weekend and boss Gareth Southgate responded by dropping record signing Afonso Alves. But Eygpt striker Mido was injured in the warm-up, forcing Southgate to reinstate Alves into his starting line-up.
Alves nearly made an instant impact when he pressured Sunderland keeper Craig Gordon into a hurried clearance as he tried to deal with Anton Ferdinand’s back-pass the ball.
Sunderland’s first chance came when Djibril Cisse got the benefit of a tight offside decision, but the France striker shot woefully wide.
Downing’s fierce drive from Alves’s blocked free-kick forced Gordon to make a fine save in the 19th minute as the visitors pressed for a breakthrough.
Jeremie Aliadiere should have done better than weakly steer his shot wide of the far post when he met Downing’s cross in the 26th minute.
Alves was denied by Gordon when the Brazilian took Adam Johnson’s pass and drove a low strike against the Sunderland keeper’s legs.
Keane was forced to make a change on the stroke of half-time when Teemu Tainio, who hurt his shoulder in a clash with Alves, was replaced by Chopra. Gordon was the busier of the two goalkeepers again in the second half and had to get down well to turn away another Alves effort soon after the interval.
Sunderland’s Kieran Richardson fired over the top after Chopra had laid off Steed Malbranque’s cross to him.
A mistake by Middlesbrough keeper Ross Turnbull almost handed Sunderland the lead four minutes later when, having collected the ball, he dropped it at Diouf’s feet.
Diouf passed wide to Cisse but Emanuel Pogatetz made a fine block as he and Huth threw themselves into the path of the shot.
Turnbull redeemed himself 19 minutes from time when he dived to his right to turn away Richardson’s curling shot, but the drama was only just beginning.
Nyron Nosworthy tripped Aliadiere as he tried to block the striker’s shot and referee Howard Webb pointed to the spot, only for Downing to fire the penalty way over.
That set the stage for Chopra to snatch the points when he slotted past Turnbull in the 81st minute. He made it 2-0 and completed a remarkable finale in injury time with a cool finish from Malbranque’s pass.
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