Almost the perfect return.
Having won the ball in an unusually advanced position, Kirchhoff set off for the Manchester United goal and just kept going.
Lovely feet took him past one, past two defenders.
The effort looked perfect but rolled just agonisingly wide of the far post.
Moments later the normally very level-headed German was booked after a confrontation with United’s young striker Scott McTominay. The 26-year-old’s ordinarily has an impressively clean tackling style even when he goes to ground, but this was forceful to say the least.
McTominay had drawn gaps aplenty from a the Hetton crowd when he crunched Kirchhoff just 10 minutes into this return from injury.
Those were, it must be said, rare flashpoints in what was a understandably low-key showing.
His return to his place in front of the back four was a reassuring sight for the fans gathered but it did not stop his young team-mates from being overwhelmed in the first half.
They were 2-0 down at the break and had not been for another impressive display of shot-stopping from Max Stryjek, it would have been more.
Kirchhoff was as tidy in possession as ever, keeping it simple. As the deepest midfielder in Sunderland’s 4-2-3-1 there were little physical demands placed on him, not risking putting his body through much pressing or intense sprints.
David Moyes said he would not risk Kirchhoff against Manchester City as he needed ‘oiling up’, and that approach was vindicated last night as he felt his way into the action.
The German will have to go through the gears considerably when back in the Premier League but this was a restrained run-out that went exactly to plan.
Sunderland had named strong team for the visit of a United side surprisingly low in the table, but the performance was a big disappointment.
Lynden Gooch took his place in a rotating front two with Josh Maja and he was Sunderland’s most promising attacker in a drab first half showing.
His pace stretched the defence and he forced the first save from Kieran O’Hara with a low drive.
The end product was missing, however, and he spurned Sunderland’s best opening when he somehow hit the post from a matter of yards.
It was a tough night for the youngster as first teamer Cameron Borthwick-Jackson proved a physical and dominant opponent.
George Honeyman and Donald Love also started on the right flank, Honeyman improving in the second half when moved to a more central role.
He and Gooch will have been disappointed not to show more quality on the ball in front of the watching Paul Bracewell, while Donald Love gave away the penalty for United’s first goal, an admittedly soft decision.
Honeyman had two good second half chances when he found space in the box, spooning the first over the bar and firing straight at the keeper from the second.
His stoppage time consolation was well taken, a first-time volley from close range after a Sunderland free-kick that was knocked down into the six-yard box.
Kirchhoff will be hoping this is the last 3-1 defeat he takes part in this season, but from David Moyes’ point of view it was another important step in what is an increasingly vital comeback bid.