Substitute Michael Chopra scored the only goal with virtually the last kick of the game to help Sunderland sink Tottenham Hotspur on their return to the Premiership. A lively opener to the English league season looked set to finish goalless when Spurs keepers Paul Robinson brilliantly denied Dickson Etuhu from close range in the 89th minute, but the England No1 was powerless to deny Chopra guiding home a Ross Wallace cross just 13 seconds playing time from the final whistle.
It was the perfect way for the 23-year-old, who began his career
with Sunderland's arch-rivals Newcastle United, to endear
himself to the Stadium of Light crowd and to justify the £5m the
Wearside club parted with to land him from Cardiff City. This
figure was considered by many to be exorbitant, but the way Chopra
controlled a right-wing centre before coolly slotting the ball into
the bottom-left corner of the visitors' net suggested
"I thought the best team won," said a delighted Sunderland manager Roy Keane. "Another late goal - we had plenty of them last season and hopefully there are more to come. It's a happy dressing room in there."
The success was, perhaps, just reward for the 2006/07 Championship winners, who pressed the action throughout in a game of limited chances. The best opening of the first half fell to the Daryl Murphy, but when the ball found him well-placed inside the Londoners' area he dallied in possession, allowing Robinson to race from his line and make a smart block.
Tottenham, who started with Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov in
attack at the expense of £16.5m signing Darren Bent and England
international Jermain Defoe, did little to threaten their
hosts' goal for much of the first half, but five minutes before
the interval they did give the majority of the 43,000-plus audience
cause for concern.
Sunderland's new £9m goalkeeper Craig Gordon dashed from his line in an attempt to thwart a break from Martin Jol's team, but the Scot was beaten to the ball by Berbatov, who flicked the ball over his head before tumbling to the ground under the challenge of Dean Whitehead. The Bulgarian wanted a penalty but referee Alan Wylie waved play on.
Eleventh hour drama
Bent, Defoe and Chopra were all introduced during the second half, but they were starved of service for the most part. Spurs' failure to break down their opponents was due to the largely impenetrable partnership between Sunderland defenders Paul McShane and Nyron Nosworthy, while Anthony Gardner was a pillar of strength at the heart of the visitors' depleted backline.
With the clock ticking down on regulation time, though, a right-wing cross found Etuhu unmarked and only six yards from goal, but the former Norwich City player failed to make proper contact with the ball, which was expertly turned away by a stretching Robinson. The look on the faces of the Nigerian and his manager Keane told the story of a wasted shot at stealing all three points.
However, with the contest deep into injury time, Sunderland created another chance - and this time its outcome provoked scenes of jubilation among the home supporters. Wallace collected the ball on the byline and although a lay-off to a team-mate appeared the simpler option, he employed a Cruyff turn to deceive his marker before dinking the ball into the box. It fell at the feet of Chopra, whose assured finish gave ex-Manchester United midfielder Keane, who turned 36 yesterday, a belated birthday present.