BEFORE last night’s match Martin O’Neill told fans not to expect “miracles” of Fraizer Campbell, but the person doing most to raise expectations is the striker himself.
With less than half an hour of his first Premier League appearance since August 2010, Campbell had scored one, made one for Sunderland.
O’Neill arrived at the Stadium of Light in December with a reputation as a manager who could inject confidence into his players, but even so, the effect he has had on the previously demoralised Wearsiders has been little short of astonishing.
When players come back from serious injury, you normally expect them to be a little tentative. But O’Neill’s magic formula has already taken effect on Campbell. After two potentially career-ending cruciate knee ligament injuries, he has returned to senior football in the sort of form he left it in.
Suddenly O’Neill’s failure to sign a striker in January is not looking so calamitous.
As well as providing the focal point the Black Cats attack has struggled for this season, Campbell will also inject the pace O’Neill will be looking for in the next transfer window.
More importantly than both, his eye for goal looks as sharp as ever. If his goalscoring comeback as an FA Cup substitute three days earlier was the stuff of fairy tales, the strike which marked his return to the starting line-up was pure Roy of the Rovers.
Given the ball by James McClean after beating his man from a throw-in, Campbell teed himself up for a volley outside the area. He hit it with the sweetness of Craig Gardner’s here against Swansea City.
It was a goal that oozed the confidence O’Neill has magicked into the side through his sheer excitable presence on the touchline. Twenty-one minutes in, Campbell was back. He had a hand in the second goal seven minutes later, though in truth it was Stéphane Sessègnon’s from start to finish.
The Benin international had started the move when he collected Michael Turner’s header and nutmegged Bradley Johnson in the centre circle.
Sessègnon sprayed the ball to Campbell, who had peeled to the right wing.
Campbell headed for the byline and put in an excellent cross his diminutive striker partner nodded into the net.
Only 28 minutes were on the clock, but it looked like O’Neill’s unbeaten record at a ground his players so struggled at in 2011 was guaranteed for another couple of weeks.
Unbeaten on their travels since December 3, Norwich had until then provided little by way of threat.