TORE ANDRE FLO'S miserable Sunderland career hit a new low last night when he was ruled out for three weeks with a thigh strain - meaning he will miss tomorrow's reunion with his old club Chelsea.

Flo, who was hurt during Norway's 2-0 Euro 2004 qualifier win over Luxembourg on Wednesday, could also be absent for the home derby with Newcastle United on April 26.

The £8.2m striker has not scored a first team goal this year and his unavailability could mean a recall for Marcus Stewart, who has not started a Premiership game since January.

Flo said: "I got a stretch just before half-time. I think I must now count on a three-week break."

Matthew Piper wants to derail Newcastle's title challenge as he tries to bring his injury-ravaged season to a more upbeat conclusion.

After suffering a recurrence of a hernia injury last month that needed surgery in November, Piper wants to make a dream return in the Wear-Tyne derby.

The 21-year-old has made just eight starts for Sunderland since joining from Leicester City at the start of the season.

But as he continued his return to full fitness yesterday, Piper outlined his determination to meet Newcastle in what is likely to be Sunderland's valedictory derby for the time being.

He said: "I have had a steroid injection and I haven't given up hope of playing again this season. I would love to get back for the Newcastle game and that is my aim.

"I played at St James' Park earlier in the season when we lost and it would be nice to get revenge.

"Maybe we will be relegated, but if we could beat Newcastle at the Stadium of Light it would mean a lot to the fans."

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