THE 1,600 hardy souls in the away end joined in with the rest of the Cardiff City Stadium in applauding Fraizer Campbell as he left the field just before the dramatic finale.
Campbell remains a popular figure among Sunderland supporters and that respect is clearly a two-way street as he followed the example of fellow ex-Black Cats forward Stephane Sessegnon from earlier in the season in opting not to celebrate against his old employers.
“I was there for four years and the fans were brilliant with me,” he said afterwards.
“Out of respect for the fans, it didn’t feel right to celebrate.”
A sizeable section of the Sunderland faithful remains adamant that Campbell should never have been sold almost 12 months ago.
In truth, Campbell perhaps needed a fresh start, and the chance to play regularly, initially in the Championship, has helped him to shrug off a miserable spell of knee injuries at the Stadium of Light.
But the former Manchester United man was certainly offloaded for a pittance at £600,000, even if his contract was due to expire six months later.
That fee got Cardiff over the line to promotion and it looked even better value for money when Sunderland splashed out a whopping £5million on Danny Graham days later.
Campbell has grasped the opportunity to rebuild his career in Wales and undoubtedly outshone another big-money Sunderland striking recruit in Jozy Altidore on Saturday.
The performance of a Sunderland defence that had looked so solid at Everton 48 hours earlier provided Campbell with a big helping hand.
Valentin Roberge, who lost Campbell at the second goal and was caught in possession for the first, looked a barrel of nerves, while Modibo Diakite and Andrea Dossena didn’t look much more assured.
But Campbell was a constant menace.
In tandem with the impressive Jordon Mutch, Campbell was always on the move, always busy and always looking to stretch Sunderland’s defence.
The 26-year-old had a couple of near-misses before his goal – getting ahead of Diakite to send a diving header inches wide and and then just failing to control Peter Whittingham’s corner after getting away from Roberge at the far post in the second half.
But his persistence, pace and brightness eventually saw him get his just rewards.
It was naive from Cardiff caretaker David Kerslake to remove Campbell, along with Kim Bo-Kyung and Craig Noone before the end. Taking off three of Cardiff’s best four players gave Sunderland the licence to throw everything at the hosts.
But Altidore couldn’t profess to provide a comparable threat to Campbell.
Four months into his Sunderland career and the jury remains out on the American, who is so frustratingly prolific at international level.
Playing as a lone striker is an unforgiving role and although Gus Poyet tucked Emanuele Giaccherini into the hole, Altidore looked a far happier specimen when Steven Fletcher was introduced alongside him.
With Fabio Borini and Adam Johnson both suffering from illness, reverting to 4-4-2 may be an option Poyet has to consider against Aston Villa on Wednesday.
But Altidore has to offer more, whether on his own or in a double act.
Under Cardiff’s pressing, Altidore’s control was poor and he produced a shocking miss to boot.
The rebound off Ki Sung-Yueng’s saved shot span awkwardly away from Altidore, but he needed to be ready to pounce and he wasn’t.
Perhaps if Poyet can find a way to squeeze Fletcher and Altidore into the same starting XI, it will help the latter, yet Sunderland have looked far more comfortable in a 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 system this season.
It suits their midfielders, they look more defensively solid and they are starting to create chances in Poyet’s favoured formation.
If initial signs of improvement from Fletcher can develop too, Altidore’s troubles may not be such an issue.
Despite spurning a couple of opportunities, Fletcher looked far more like his old self at Everton on Boxing Day and after being given a breather from the starting XI, performed well again on Saturday.
A first goal since October will have done him the world of good and it was the type of predatory finish which proved to be his trademark last season.
If Sunderland can get Fletcher firing on all cylinders again, it will make a mammoth difference to their hopes of remaining in the Premier League.
Those prospects would have looked far better if Sunderland had managed to collect all three points in South Wales.
Psychologically, moving out of the relegation zone for the first time in four months at the halfway point of the season would have been huge.
Given the tumultuous events at Cardiff too, it can be argued that it was a missed opportunity, particularly given that Sunderland were desperately below-par for such long periods.
But this was very much one point gained, not two points lost.
Sunderland will continue to have days where their performance levels plummet and Poyet’s passing philosophy is scuppered by carelessness.
It’s inevitable next month when the fixtures are so breathless.
But picking up points when you don’t play well is a good trait to have and Sunderland have managed it twice within the last three games.
The Black Cats had plenty of days earlier in the season when they did alright, but suffered defeats. Managing the opposite is an encouraging sign.
So, too, is the persistence Sunderland showed in refusing to accept defeat and continuing to plug away, regardless of how late they left it.
It may have upset the Roman emperor-esque Vincent Tan.
But it prompted utter euphoria in the away end.
There was no misunderstanding over how big a moment that could be.
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