Steven Fletcher showed Sheffield Wednesday fans what they have been missing after making his first start in over eight months.
The Scotland international’s last start came on December 2 2017, before a knee injury ended his season prematurely.
While he could not crown his long-awaited comeback with a deserved goal – on another day he could have bagged a hat-trick – Fletcher deserved his standing ovation when the 31-year-old was substituted after 73 minutes.
By that time, the Owls were pushing for a winner against Yorkshire rivals Hull City after Fernando Forestieri’s penalty had cancelled out Fraizer Campbell’s opener.
Both sides had chances to pinch three points, but eventually had to settle for a share of the spoils.
With Wednesday currently under a transfer embargo, the return of Fletcher – pushed into service due to Atdhe Nuhiu’s suspension, and Lucas Joao’s injury –was a huge positive for the South Yorkshire club.
“Fletcher was brilliant, he was a handful all day,” said midfielder Barry Bannan, a team-mate at both club and international level. “He has been out for ages, and on another day he could have had one or two goals.
“I think it was brilliant just to see him back out playing and putting himself about.
“He can occupy defences on his own and it’s a big bonus for us to get players like him back.
“It’s like a new signing and it will be the same when Gary Hooper and Kieran Lee come back (from long-term injuries).
“I know we have not signed anyone but they are like new signings because they have been out for that long. Fletcher was like a new signing and he was hungry, working tirelessly up front on his own. He was just unlucky to not get the goals but I’m sure they will come.”
Fletcher’s best chance came at 0-0, when Adam Reach slipped him through. But with only David Marshall to beat, the Tigers goalkeeper blocked the shot with his outstretched right boot.
Twice in the second half, Fletcher showed his rustiness, failing to find the target with headers. First, a corner was knocked back across goal by Tom Lees but Fletcher headed wide.
Then Reach delivered a super cross to the back post but Fletcher ballooned the ball over Marshall’s crossbar.
Defeat would have been harsh on a Hull side who were the better team in the first half.
Evandro had the first shot on goal, but dragged his effort wide, before the impressive Jarrod Bowen fired over with the goal at his mercy.
Hull broke the deadlock on 36 minutes. Bowen hit the post, Dawson saved the follow-up from Evandro but was helpless to thwart Campbell, who drilled the ball home.
It was a special moment for the Huddersfield-born striker, who claims he is the fittest he has been in five years after spells at Cardiff City and Crystal Palace.
“Last season I wasn’t as fit as I should have been,” admitted Campbell. “I had missed a lot of football the season before that. I had a long extended summer.
“It’s been really good to have a good pre-season under my belt, start the season fresh.
“I feel a lot better than I have done for five years. It makes a massive difference to me, and, hopefully, I can make a massive difference to the team.
“My injury problems over the last few years have mainly come from not playing enough football.
“When you have been on the sidelines for a long time, then come on for one game, the way I play – high energy, sprinting, giving everything – your muscles can’t cope with that.
“I played a lot of football last season, had a good pre-season, so I am really happy.”
He was not so happy with Wednesday’s equaliser, six minutes into the second half.
Forestieri, chasing a ball which was running away from goal, was fouled by Reece Burke. Referee Stuart Attwell pointed to the spot and Forestieri made no mistake.
Then came Fletcher’s two missed headers as Wednesday upped the tempo, and the trickery of Forestieri forced Marshall into two fine saves.
Nigel Adkins’s new-look Tigers could have pinched a winner, but goalkeeper Cameron Dawson kept out Markus Henriksen’s strike before Burke saw his shot diverted wide.
The draw meant both sides opened their points account after opening day defeats.
“It’s disappointing,” said Bannan. “We came out wanting to win the game. We didn’t start off great, gave them too many chances and when they got the goal it gave them something to sit back and defend. In the second half we were much better. We had a better tempo and should have won it in the end.”
Campbell added: “We looked solid for the majority of the game.
“They had a few chances, but we kept them down to a minimum, and they scored from a penalty, not open play.
“It was a kick in the teeth, but we come away with a point away from home.”