A testing week for Borussia Dortmund ended on a positive note on Sunday.
After the disappointment of losing to Bayern Munich in midweek, they took out their frustrations on Paderborn. The Bundesliga's bottom club were hit for six with Jadon Sancho the undisputed star of the show.
The England international - centre of much transfer speculation amid reports of a return to the Premier League - registered a hat-trick to take his Bundesliga tally for the season to 17. In doing so, he helped his current employers pick up a victory that, for now, will silence some of their doubters.
These were three much-needed points as well, and not just to boost morale after the midweek defeat to Bayern had seemingly dashed their Bundesliga title dream for another season and raised questions over Lucien Favre's suitability to lead the team beyond the current campaign.
Instead of being tucked in behind the leaders, Dortmund's Klassiker setback had them looking worryingly over their shoulder.
Borussia Monchengladbach's 4-1 thrashing of Union Berlin on Sunday had pulled them into BVB's rear-view mirror, as they joined Bayer Leverkusen – 1-0 winners at Freiburg on Friday – on 56 points. RB Leipzig, meanwhile, can leapfrog the pair and reclaim third place by beating Cologne on Monday.
With the chasing pack sensing an opportunity to attack a wounded rival, a win – any type of win – was all that mattered for Dortmund against opponents propping up the rest in the table. Still, they had drawn 3-3 against Paderborn in their previous meeting, while they were without the injured Erling Haaland.
The Norwegian's absence was keenly felt during a scoreless first 45 minutes, too. Thorgan Hazard was nominated to be the replacement up top, but no Haaland left Dortmund without a battering ram to knock down the door. Instead, they had to patiently pick at the lock, eventually opening Paderborn up.
Leopold Zingerle helped their cause admittedly, the hospitable goalkeeper gifting Hazard the chance to score the opener as he dropped a cross straight into the path of the Belgian.
After that, however, it was all about Sancho.
The 20-year-old had not started a game since the resumption of a campaign held up by the coronavirus pandemic, a calf injury leading to cameo roles off the bench. In each of the three previous games his time on the field had increased, including playing all of the second half in the 1-0 defeat to Bayern.
Now, though, Favre was happy to give him top billing again. Even with the game long over as a contest, the Dortmund boss left Sancho out there to demonstrate just why he is so coveted by clubs in his homeland, suggesting there are no long-term concerns over his fitness for the remainder of the run-in.
He capitalised on the extended opportunity, sealing his hat-trick and with it a place in the Bundesliga history books.
A tap-in from Julian Brandt's square pass to double Dortmund’s advantage and was followed by revealing a shirt with the words "Justice for George Floyd" written across it, in reference to the black American who died while in Minneapolis police custody.
His second was a well-placed finish when teed up by Hazard, quickly ending Paderborn's comeback hopes after Uwe Hunemeier's penalty halved the deficit. Sancho's third, however, was the pick of the bunch.
There was clearly still plenty left in the tank as proceedings drifted into added time, allowing him to race clear on the counter down Dortmund's right before clinically slotting the ball inside Zingerle's near post.
The treble makes him the youngest player to reach 30 goals in the competition’s long history. How many more he will add to that tally, considering the rumours surrounding his future, is unclear, but this was a day when he made a clear statement – and not just with his performance, either.