Martin O'Neill paid a glowing tribute to Fraizer Campbell after the forward emerged from an 17-month injury nightmare that threatened his career to earn Sunderland a replay against neighbours Middlesbrough.
Campbell was recovering from an operation on his anterior cruciate ligament when he suffered the same injury, breaking down in training in April last year. He was forced back under the knife and his appearance yesterday as a second-half substitute was his first since August 2010. Such has been his attitude during that bleak period that the Sunderland physio, Dave Galley, said he had never helped a player with a more positive spirit during such a length of recovery. For O'Neill the player's return kept his Sunderland side in the FA Cup.
"I'm really delighted for him," O'Neill said. "I think everyone is around here, it is hard not to be after what he has been through. I think it was his first or second touch when he scored. He gave us something extra.
"Our phsyio tells me he may well be the best of the lot in terms of never being down, after the injury. To get the same injury again, you thought it might be it. He knuckled down again. He does always a smile on his face, he's in there and he gives everyone a lift around the football club."
Campbell himself added: "Personally I'm delighted to be back out there. I can't put it into words. It's been a tough 18 months. Hopefully I can get some fitness back and do what I do. I'm sure we will take a load of fans there [at the replay at the Riverside] and make it a good atmosphere."
Barry Robson had put Middlesbrough ahead after just 16 minutes. His mistake however, just before the hour mark, sent Sunderland away for their equaliser.
"It is a pass you make nine times out of 10, but it bounced up and went to their player," he said. "That's football. A few players in our team have played at a higher level. We have to prove we can get there. It is bitter-sweet because of the pass. It is a simple task like that to pass the ball back. That happens. It's football and we move on."
The Middlesbrough manager, Tony Mowbray, added: "We could have lost heart after the equaliser but we pushed on and if anything, the dressing room is disappointed.
"We have to put it into perspective. We've played a team that has beaten Manchester City and Swansea and probably is the form team in the Premier League."
O'Neill confirmed he will make a renewed attempt to sign striker Kevin Davies from Bolton. "I have made an enquiry and Owen [Coyle] would want to try and keep him but wouldn't stand in his way. I may well follow that up tomorrow morning."