Cardiff City forward Michael Chopra is the One to Watch this weekend as he remains the Bluebirds’ key threat.
Name: Michael Chopra
Date of Birth: 23-12-1983 (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
Former Clubs: Newcastle United, Watford (L), Nottingham Forest (L), Barnsley (L), Cardiff City, Sunderland.
Appearances (Goals): 237 (82)
After bursting onto the scene as a reserve team player at Newcastle United, Chopra was granted his debut in a 3-3 Carling Cup draw with Everton. With just short of 20 minutes remaining he replace Lomana Lua-Lua as the Toffees went through on penalties.
Then ensued arguable one of the biggest moments of his career as Chopra was given the final moments of a 3-1 defeat against Barcelona at the Camp Nou. The young striker again replaced Lua-Lua in the Champions League defeat.
Another Champions League appearance for Chopra came against Bayer Leverkusen, in which he came on for Lua-Lua once again in the final moments of the clash. This was before he was sent out on loan to Watford.
His debut against Sheffield United was pale in comparison to his second start for the Hornets, where he was in blistering form to knock four goals past Burnley – one of the most bizarre fixtures in the league’s history finishing 7-4 to visitors Watford.
In his six games for Watford he bagged one more goal in the home win over Derby County, taking his tally to five in a useful loan spell for both parties. Old habits never die hard as he replaced Lua-Lua in the final game of the season as Newcastle United drew 2-2 with West Bromwich Albion.
He made six more appearances for the Toon Army in the top flight in the 2003-04 season, which included a fruitless spell at Nottingham Forest in which the Reds failed to win during his time at the City Ground.
He was loaned out again to Barnsley from the beginning of the 2004-05 season for the duration of the campaign, and it proved to be a campaign he would relish – hitting 17 goals for the Tykes in 39 league appearances.
These goals included hatricks in wins over Peterborough United (4-0) and Huddersfield Town (4-2), but with the Tykes failing to make the playoffs, Chopra was given the opportunity to return and play a part against Chelsea – replacing Patrick Kluivert for the final 15 minutes.
Owing to his good form at Oakwell he was given a chance at Newcastle United and played a good role in their Inter-Toto Cup campaign, scoring his first Newcastle goal five years after signing permanently at St James’ Park, the opening goal against Slovakian side Dubnica.
In 19 more games for the Geordies he managed two more goals, the second of which came in the demolition of local rivals Sunderland (4-1), who in the end were relegated with an embarrassing 15 points.
He made history by scoring that goal at Sunderland as it was the fastest in Premier League history, a mere ten seconds after taking to the field at The Stadium of Light.
His performances that season had earned him the offer of a one-year extension at St James’ Park, an offer he grudgingly rejected, instead joining Cardiff City in a £500,000 deal in a bid to gain regular first team football.
It was a season to remember for Chopra as 22 goals in 42 games, including a run of nine goals in six games and a hatrick against Leicester City and a host of braces against fellow Championship sides.
His last appearance in a Cardiff shirt that season was Chopra being sent off after the final whistle against QPR at Loftus Road – the game that ultimately saved the R’s from relegation.
Chopra took exception to something and started an argument with himself in the goalmouth before kicking things over like a petulant child. Nevertheless he was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year for a succession of outstanding displays.
A year after signing Chopra for peanuts, promoted-side Sunderland snapped him up for a fee worth £5,000,000 triggering a clause in his contract. Mumblings of discontent from the Black Cats faithful, not only for his price-tag but also his Geordie roots, were soon alleviated with a debut goal.
His strike against Tottenham Hotspur and another sensational goal against Birmingham City made him an instant hit with both boss Roy Keane and the Sunderland supporters, and dispelled some early scepticism.
15 games without a goal brought the doubters to the surface once more and only four more goals that season made the £5m price tag weigh heavy on his shoulders in a mediocre 15th placed finish for the Black Cats.
He started the new season brightly with a brace against north-east rivals Middlesbrough, but that wasn’t enough to quell speculation that he was on his way out of the Stadium of Light. He joined former club Cardiff City on a two month loan to cover for the injured Jay Bothroyd and Ross McCormack.
His debut was at Loftus Road where Gavin Mahon’s looping header won the game on a day where Miguel Comminges was sent-off for the Bluebirds. Five goals in his brief spell at Ninian Park sparked hope that he’d return permanently.
Sunderland boss Ricky Sbragia poured scorn on such suggestions as he returned to play a part against former club Newcastle United. With unprecedented 55 seconds left of the clock for the January Transfer Window, Chopra penned a loan deal with Cardiff City until the end of the season.
Another four goals for Cardiff wasn’t enough to help them secure a playoff spot with Cardiff dropping out on the final day to the side that defeated them 6-0 a few weeks prior – Preston North End. It was decided by the narrowest of margins on goal difference.
During the summer Cardiff splashed out to sign the Sunderland man with a club record £3,000,000 fee agreed for the striker. He celebrated his signature with the first ever goal at the newly-crowned Cardiff City Stadium in the 4-0 win over Scunthorpe United.
His blistering start to the campaign was underlined not only by his brace against the Iron but also a hatrick against Plymouth Argyle and goals against Blackpool, Bristol City and Bristol Rovers – the latter coming in the Carling Cup.
Further goals were to come with four in a 6-1 drubbing against Derby County, and more recently a brace in the keenly-fought South Wales derby against Swansea City. It was a priceless double that keeps Cardiff’s play-off hopes firmly intact.
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