There will inevitably be plenty more twists and turns to come in this Championship season, but you still can’t help but wonder whether this might yet prove a turning point for Blackburn Rovers.
Coming into the game sixth in the Championship after some impressive early season form, Rovers started the day knowing they were in a position from which they have so often faltered in their push for a play-off place has so often faltered.
What happened here though, couldn’t have been further than what has gone before, as Rovers turned in a ruthless, best performance of the season, to dominate a stagnant Cardiff side who after the opening 20 minutes, rarely looked like making a mark on the game.
It was the visitors who did have the first clear sight of goal of the afternoon five minutes in, and they may feel it should have put them ahead, Ryan Nyambe reacting well to head off the line for Blackburn from Sean Morrison’s header, after ‘keeper Thomas Kaminski kept out Aden Flint’s initial effort.
But after an opening 25 minutes in which Cardiff had enjoyed the majority of the territory without really threatening again, it would be Rovers who struck first midway through the first half.
Back in the side after two games out with injury, Sam Gallagher made it a perfect return to action, as he beat the offside trap to get on the end of John Buckley’s excellent ball over the top, before keeping his nerve to fire past Dillon Phillips into the bottom corner to give Blackburn the lead.
Though Cardiff continued to apply much of the pressure, it was Rovers who went closer to a second on the half-hour mark, as Daniel Ayala headed against the woodwork from a corner.
As it was, Rovers wouldn’t have to wait much longer for that second. Just moments after that Ayala chance, Tyhrys Dolan delivered an outstanding cross from the right into the Cardiff, and Ben Brereton-Diaz was on hand at the back post to fire home first time for his fifth of the season, and double the home side’s advantage.
From there, it was Rovers who started to take increasing control of the game in terms of possession to match the scoreline, and could have been even further ahead, first when Gallagher’s effort from the edge of the area threatened to completely catch out Phillips.
Then, as the interval approached, a tantalising run from Joe Rothwell saw him beat several Cardiff defenders to get into the area, before pulling it back to Brereton-Diaz, whose shot was brilliantly blocked by Sean Morrison to prevent Rovers getting a third.
But yet again, the hosts wouldn’t have to wait long to get on the scoresheet once more, this time a more slapstick chain of events.
Breaking down the left, Brereton-Diaz looked to play the ball in-field, only for the pass to deflect back into the path of the attacker off a Cardiff man, with the Blackburn man’s rather tame subsequent shot squeezing through the legs of Phillips. The Chilean international then finished off the move by ensuring Curtis Nelson attempt at a goalline clearance simply bounced off him into the net, as the half ended with Rovers three to the good, and audible boos ringing out from the away end.
That frustration would prompt Cardiff manager Mick McCarthy to send for attacking reinforcements at the break, with Ryan Giles and Mark Harris both sent on.
But despite that, it would be Blackburn who got the opening goal of the half to further stretch their advantage. Harry Pickering’s incisive ball down the left found Brereton-Diaz, whose deep cross was headed down by Sam Gallagher into the centre of the area, where Dolan was on hand to fire past Phillips to mark his 50th appearance for the club with a goal shortly after the break.
Cardiff though, would give themselves a glimmer of hope just before the hour-mark, Giles doing well to win a corner, which he then proceeded to send onto the head of Sean Morrison, who flicked his header beyond Kaminski to reduce the deficit to 4-1.
Kaminski had to on his toes shortly after to prevent the visitors getting a second, tipping over a header from Harris, again after Giles had caused problems down the wing.
The visitors though would continue to press, will full-back Joel Bagan twice squandering good openings by firing off target from inside the area.
Up the other end, Phillips produced a good save a his near post to deny Brereton-Diaz a hat-trick after another excellent ball from Buckley had played the Chilean in behind the Cardiff defence.
In the end though, Brereton-Diaz would not be denied the hat-trick, as Phillips brought down Reda Khadra inside the area with the Bluebirds struggling to clear their lines.
Referee Keith Stroud pointed to the spot, and Brereton-Diaz stepped up to roll the ball into the bottom corner, securing the matchball for himself, and equalling his tally of seven goals from the whole of last season before the end of September, to complete a near perfect day for Rovers.