FRAIZER Campbell’s return to first-team action yesterday could not have been better timed for Sunderland and manager Martin O’Neill was the first to celebrate the striker’s return.
“I’m really, really delighted for him,” he said.
“But I think everybody is round here – it’s hard not to be, with the injuries he’s sustained.
“He took his goal brilliantly as well too. He just gave us a bit of extra energy that we lacked in the first half.”
Campbell’s introduction for the second half of yesterday’s game against Middlesbrough was a bold move by the Black Cats’ boss.
But O’Neill felt that first-choice forward Connor Wickham was having no joy whatsoever in the game and that he needed to make a big decision at half-time.
He said: “Connor was a little bit sore but it was a very difficult afternoon for the young lad.
“The change was tactical rather than anything else but Connor will come again – he has a big future in the game.
“I just thought Campbell gave us that extra energy we needed.”
O’Neill also praised Campbell’s dedication in working so hard to give himself a chance of playing again after the double cruciate ligament injuries which have sidelined him for 17 months..
“My physio Dave Galley tells me – and he’s been in the business a long time now – that Fraizer could well be the best person he’s ever dealt with in terms of never being down,” said the manager.
“There’s always a smile on his face and he gives everyone a lift around the football club.
“So it was a great moment for him to celebrate when he got the goal and no one could deserve it more.”
O’Neill was also unstinting in his praise of young winger James McClean, who he felt epitomised the fighting spirit that stopped Sunderland from capitulating in the second half.
It was McClean’s assist for Campbell’s equaliser and his manager said: “It was a fantastic ball from James, who I thought was outstanding in the second half.
“He put his heart and soul into it and did brilliantly for one so young – getting forward whenever possible and looking to get back when he could.
“He played some fantastic balls in and had we reacted to them a little bit better we might have got a winning goal.”