Huddersfield Town 3 Blackburn Rovers 2: Danny Ward and Town answer the doubters
IT was all about which version of Huddersfield Town and Blackburn Rovers would turn up on Tuesday night.
Would it be the Town side who had laboured for goals in the opening half of Championship games so far in 2021-22 and struggled to manufacture clear-cut chances - let alone find the net - of late.
Or the side who produced emphatic victories over Blackpool and Reading, again relatively recently.
What about Blackburn, a side who mustered ten efforts on target in their 5-1 weekend blitzing of Cardiff, with the Terriers not coming close to that tally in their previous three matches combined.
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Would the Ben Brereton-Diaz and Tyrhys Dolan-inspired free-flowing side of Rovers be exhibited or the line-up who dug out 1-1 draws with their only on-target efforts at Middlesbrough and Millwall. They weren't much better in their previous away game at Barnsley, in truth.
In the event, the good side of both was showcased in an absorbing contest which painted Town - for whom Alex Vallejo scored his first goal for the club - in a glowing light on an evening of renaissance, more especially for two-goal striker Danny Ward.
So passive three days earlier at Swansea when they had no efforts on target, Town looked determined to do something about it at the first available juncture with their quick-fire start being a breath of fresh air on a crisp autumnal evening. They sustained the tempo, crucially.
Two class operators in Chile international Ben Brereton-Diaz, who took his season's goal tally to nine with a brace inside eight second-half minutes to draw Rovers level twice and new Wales call-up Sorba Thomas, who provided assists to Town's first two goals, took to the stage, perhaps not unsurprisingly.
But the night truly belonged to Ward, who rewound the clock to happier days and nights in the blue and white with two classic centre-forward headers, including an 85th-minute winner to end a breathless encounter as Town ended Blackburn's unbeaten away run so far this season in style.
In possession, they looked forward and did not take the safe sideways option and their energy, movement and intensity was striking, as was their ability to get crosses into the box on an occasion when they scored three goals for open play. More please.
Town set the tone early and it should have yielded an opener inside the first few minutes for Danel Sinani, who blazed over with plenty of the goal to aim at.
Captain-for-the-night Lewis O’Brien then rued his luck when his angled shot hit the post after a forceful move when he instigated, with the armband sitting well on his shoulders in a half which saw him lead by example.
Rovers gradually started to step it up and just when they were threatening to dictate, Town gave them something to think about from an unlikely source courtesy of Vallejo, who passed the ball into the net in a style that the late, great and recently-departed Jimmy Greaves would have approved of.
His low precision finish was effortless after being picked out by Thomas as Town scored their quickest goal of the season so far, albeit after 36 minutes.
Moments after their sweet opener, Tom Lees earned his keep with a timely block to deny Tyrhys Dolan, with Brereton-Diaz, who had earlier announced himself with a curler which flew wide, saw a header grasped by Nicholls.
Brereton-Diaz would have more of a decisive say on the resumption.
Shortly after Vallejo departed with injury, Joe Rothwell's fine waltzing run saw him surge clear before teeing up the in-form Rovers forward to fire the ball home low from short range - and then the fun really began.
A super cross from the right by Thomas was buried emphatically on the hour by Ward, who rose above statuesque substitute Tyler Magloire, on as a concussion replacement for Ryan Nyambe - only for Rovers to level five minutes later.
The recalled Naby Sarr, who hit both goals in Town's win over Blackburn on home soil last term, had another fateful contribution when he slid in needlessly to fell Brereton-Diaz for an obvious penalty and his strike just beat Lee Nicholls.
Lees went close to a winner, while Thomas Kaminski thwarted Ward, but the Town player was not to be denied when he powered in a header after a right-wing cross from substitute Ollie Turton was headed across goal by Harry Toffolo.
This time, there was no way back for Rovers as Town moved level on points with their Roses rivals in the table on a night when Josh Ruffels became the 1,000th player to represent the club in their history.
Fittingly, it was a game which ended in a home win.
Huddersfield Town: Nicholls; Pearson, Lees, Sarr; Thomas (Turton 81); Vallejo (Vallejo 56), O'Brien, Toffolo; Sinani (Ruffels 88), Ward, Koroma (Holmes 81). Substitutes unused: Bilokapic, Aarons, Campbell.
Blackburn Rovers: Kaminski; Nyambe (Magloire 21), Carter, Ayala, Pickering; Travis, Rothwell (Poveda 75); Gallagher (Clarkson 79), Buckley, Brereton Diaz; Dolan (Khadra 79). Substitutes unused: Pears, Butterworth, Edun.
Referee: J Simpson (Lancashire).