Vincent Kompany described himself as "by far the happiest footballer on earth" after he completed 90 minutes in Manchester City's 3-0 FA Cup victory at Crystal Palace.
City progressed to the fifth round with a convincing performance, but Kompany's first appearance since suffering his most recent injury - also against Palace at Selhurst Park - felt equally significant.
The captain and central defender's absence with a knee injury has appeared particularly significant amid City's erratic defending and the inconsistency of their goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. His return could yet give manager Pep Guardiola the balance he has been striving for, even if he accepts he is not yet fully fit.
"I'm by far the happiest footballer on earth," Kompany, 30, told City's official website. "I've been working hard for this, waiting, waiting, waiting to get back into the team.
"Ninety minutes to play for this club that means much to me. Everything was there for me to perform well: a good hail storm, a few good challenges. I was happy with the performance.
"I haven't played for a long time, so it'd be silly to think I'm already at 100 per cent. I've so much experience: I wouldn't say the game is easy, but I know exactly what to do.
"There were a lot of changes in the team and we were still able to put a good performance in.
"I thought it was as good as it can be because it wasn't easy; it wasn't always top football even though we played some amazing moments."
City's Â£27million January signing Gabriel Jesus was given his full debut in the absence of Sergio Aguero, and Kompany said of the 19-year-old Brazilian: "I'm extremely impressed.
"He got a good whack at the end and I just told him 'Just get up and get on with it'. He's got so much ability, power and pace, and he's a level-headed lad, so he's got everything to be a top star in the Premier League."
Relegation-threatened Palace, finalists last season, have only the Premier League to concentrate on after their elimination.
They were consistently outclassed, even if City were far from intense, in the latest demonstration of their lack of confidence, but defender Joel Ward felt they deserved better.
"In the end we started trying to push on and got exposed and when you play against players of that calibre they're going to hurt you," he told Palace's official website. "We stayed in the game at 1-0 and if you manage to stay in the game until later on you might nick a goal.
"When they start to hit you on the break like that they're going to get their chances and they're clinical when they do.
"We had some chances and we knew that if we played in a certain way, got in behind them and put balls in the box, we'd create chances. It's something that we worked on and we did that; it's frustrating we didn't convert them.
"We got carried away pushing forward and left ourselves a bit exposed."