Friday spotlight: Old boy Campbell a real threat to Sunderland’s survival bid

Fraizer Campbell returns to Sunderland with Cardiff on Sunday
Fraizer Campbell returns to Sunderland with Cardiff on Sunday
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THE heads of Sunderland fans will be spinning by now, having been battered all week by rallying cries, web postings and discussion threads emphasising the importance of Sunday’s game against Cardiff City.

It will continue tomorrow, across all forms of media with, no doubt, the (digital) Football Echo having its tuppence-worth to say too.

That’s how it should be, of course.

The relegation six-pointer is THAT important a game, both for Sunderland and Cardiff.

And it is vital Sunderland supporters are reminded that, in this game especially, their club needs them.

The great thing is that after a week of media pot-boiling it is going to be some atmosphere in the Stadium of Light when referee Phil Dowd puts his whistle to his mouth and everyone in the ground suddenly has that spine-tingling realisation that the moment has come: it’s “game on”.

Sky’s Dave Jones suggested at the start of the week that this game might be one for Sunderland fans to, quite literally, get the flags out.

I don’t know about that, though I agree with the sentiment behind it.

The most important thing this Sunday is to have bums on seats and, in that respect, Dave’s employers have done Sunderland no favours at all, scheduling the match for midday on a Sunday.

To be fair though, they’ve done even fewer favours to Cardiff fans, who will not be able to travel up in time by train that day and will have to set off at the crack of dawn by road for a journey which can take well over five hours – for a game whose importance cannot be underestimated.

This weekend’s relegation games are all about broad brush generalisations – “winning means everything”, “100 per cent commitment”, “three points is all that counts” etc.

But two subtle strands of the complex drama intrigue me, and that’s the potential impact on events of a couple of likely lads who once regularly stood together on the chilly terrace at Eppleton CW watching Sunderland Reserves games unfold.

They are two young men who might have been watching all games from the terraces now, had they both not done wonderfully well to recover from career-threatening injuries.

Step forward best friends and ex-Sunderland players Fraizer Campbell (now of Cardiff) and David Meyler (now of Hull).

On Sunday, Campbell will take centre stage for the Bluebirds when he returns to the Stadium of Light for the first time since his £650,000 transfer to the Welsh side last January.

Almost 24 hours earlier, Meyler is likely to have been playing in a Hull midfield containing former Sunderland target Tom Huddlestone, stepping out at Craven Cottage to take on Fulham in another vital game at the foot of the table.

Who knows what part either might have to play in exactly how the Black Cats’ season now unfolds?

Had fate been different, both players might have been in the Sunderland squad this weekend.

But Martin O’Neill allowed Campbell to leave cheaply at the same time as he bought Danny Graham for £5million, while the same window saw Meyler sold to former Sunderland manager Steve Bruce for £1.5m as fellow midfielder Alfred N’Diaye was recruited for £3.7m.

Retrospectively, those look like poor decisions.

Campbell is Cardiff’s leading scorer overall and though his Premier League return of six might be modest, it’s more than fellow forwards Craig Bellamy, Peter Odemwingie, ex-Black Cat Kenwyne Jones and Jo Inge Beret combined.

Campbell has done astoundingly well to come back from two cruciate knee ligaments to play at the highest level and the same goes for Meyler, who suffered a cruciate ligament injury at the start of his career against Manchester United and then another serious knee injury against Aston Villa.

Both have done well to return – both were exemplary in their mental and physical attitude to rehabilitation, much of which was accomplished side by side and Meyler, in particular, has confounded those who questioned whether he could ever return at a competitive level.

This season, he has played 37 games for Hull – more games than any but a handful of Sunderland players.

What Meyler and Campbell also possessed was a genuine affection for Sunderland and its fans, and pride in playing for the club – something no amount of money can buy.

Players get a bad rap sometimes in terms of loyalty and commitment.

But the injured Campbell and Meyler were regulars watching reserve games at Eppleton, happy to support young team-mates, when they could have been elsewhere.

That attachment has survived their moves – both players retaining links with Sunderland and the fans.

Ironically, they’ve also both scored against their old club this season!

Campbell refused to celebrate when he scored for the Bluebirds in Sunderland’s 2-2 draw at Cardiff in December.

Meyler similarly refused to glory in a rare goal which helped send Sunderland out of the FA Cup quarter-finals last month – unless you include his head-butting of a corner flag, which was aimed primarily at Newcastle nutter Alan Pardew.

Both will have hoped at the start of the season that their current and former clubs would stay up, but only Meyler is likely to accomplish that goal; for Campbell, it looks a case of either/or.

The positive thing from a Sunderland perspective is that Hull’s defeat at Arsenal last week means Meyler’s men cannot afford to concentrate solely on their forthcoming FA Cup final.

Steve Bruce will want a win or draw against Fulham tomorrow to essentially banish the faintest of relegation fears.

They will remain motivated.

Campbell, meantime, like ex-Black Cat Kenwyne Jones, knows that Cardiff realistically require a win against his former club to keep survival hopes buoyant.

What fate has in store for them this weekend could be interesting.

Meyler and Campbell may prove to be bit-part players in the drama of the weekend. Alternatively, one or other could take centre stage.

But the two men are reminders that while the bigger picture is the fate of the clubs themselves, there’s no end of fascinating sub-plots contained within.

Twitter @sunechograeme

* Don’t miss the online Football Echo – available on this website from 6.45pm tomorrow – with the latest in the build-up to Sunday’s big game, plus tomorrow’s live action, the biggest and best coverage of SAFC and much more