Fraizer Campbell's painfully long road to recovery, as he admitted, consisted of dreams like last night; leaving the field in the 74th minute, fit, healthy and afforded a standing ovation for his match-winning performance.
This was his triumphant return in full – his FA Cup heroics on Sunday had been more a cameo. Back after a 17-month absence in the Premier League to destroy Norwich City and leave his superlative-loving manager searching for new ones. Fantastic seemed to be hitting the mark.
Campbell's goal, which came after 21 minutes, even drew emotion from Paul Lambert; "A wonder strike," he called it. And it was, a superb, angled volley from 30 yards looping over the Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy. The kind of goal a player who has fought back from two career-threatening knee injuries with such a smile deserved.
"You dream of night's like this when you are recovering," he said. "That's it, it's a long road but there is always light at the end of the tunnel and to score on a night like this ... it's as good a night as I've had here. The team played well and we didn't concede. It was great to see it go in."
It will go down in folklore now that Campbell went to away Premier League games in the Sunderland end, in disguise as he fought back from those injuries. It has certainly endeared him to the club's supporters, as did his opening goal and the fact he played a major part in the delightful second, watching Stéphane Sessègnon nutmeg Bradley Johnson on the halfway line before racing onto his strike-partner's pass down the right wing. This time he turned provider, crossing perfectly for Sessègnon to head in the second, and kill off what little resistance Norwich had offered. That was confirmed in the 54th minute when Daniel Ayala directed Phil Bardsley's low cross into his own goal.
Campbell looked stunned as he sat in the dugout after his substitution and appeared to say: "That's blown my head away." That was after an embrace from Martin O'Neill and before a glowing tribute. "I'm delighted for him," the Sunderland manager said. "If he hogs the headlines, then good for him. I've only known him a few weeks. He's been fantastic to have around the place. His attitude is fantastic. His overall enthusiasm is terrific but you need more than that and his play has been fantastic. His whole demeanour gives everyone a lift around the place. He was part of a side that played particularly well."
Norwich were barely involved, a fact acknowledged by Lambert. "There are no complaints tonight," he said. "We were second best, and when you are, that is what you get. There have not been many times we have said that. I am not being over-critical. Hopefully we will regroup. I'm confident they will pick themselves up."
Substitutes: Sunderland - Ji (Campbell, 74), Meyler (Sessègnon, 82), Bridge (Richardson, 82). Norwich City - Bennett (Johnson, 62), Pilkington (Hoolahan, 62), Wilbraham (Holt, 78).
Booked: Sunderland - Gardner. Norwich - Naughton.
Man of the match Campbell.
Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Sunderland 47% Norwich 53%.
Attempts on target: Sunderland 6 Norwich 4.
Referee L Mason (Lancashire). Attendance 34,476.Reuse content