The Pack-factor: Why Bristol City haven’t been the same since ‘Colin’ came calling

by James Cox ¦ @jamescoxsj

The 2019 summer transfer window deadline day was one of chaos at Bristol City, littered with late signings and departures.

The most notable sale, and potentially most eyebrow-raising transfer at the club in general, was Cardiff City’s acquisition of Reds captain Marlon Pack.

The City skipper looked set for his seventh tireless season in BS3, but a trip across the Severn Bridge and one Ayatollah later, the industrious midfielder found himself at the disposal of Neil Warnock’s Bluebirds.

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Pack now plies his trade at Cardiff City.

Along with the sale of Josh Brownhill to Burnley in January, and in spite of the hopeful addition of Markus Henriksen, City have failed to replace the diligent and determined central midfielder; something which later came back to haunt Lee Johnson, as the 39-year-old lost his job after defeat to new boss Neil Harris and Pack’s Cardiff.

Pack’s consistency, reliability and influence in attacking moves are the main aspects of his game that set him apart from City’s current three midfield options. Delving deeper into this particular skillset shows just how much of an impact Pack made, and why the City midfield have struggled without the presence of the former-Cheltenham Town man.

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Pack featured once for City in 2019/20 – the season opening defeat to Leeds.

Pack’s 4,098 minutes for City in the 2018/19 Championship season is only second to Aden Flint’s 2016/17 campaign – in terms of the most league minutes played in a season – since the return of second tier football to Ashton Gate in 2015. 

Josh Brownhill also played 3,978 minutes in 18/19, allowing for the pair to strike up a strong relationship in the middle of the park. Korey Smith’s long-term injury is a big factor of this, but despite only missing one league game between them, Pack and Brownhill performed in tandem, and to an extremely high standard.

Reliability was perhaps Pack’s most outstanding attribute – as monotonous as it seems, 0.9 Bad Controls per game is an impressively low number, and when compared with Massengo’s 2, Smith and Brownhill’s 1.1, and Nagy’s 1.7, it shows just how much better Pack was at simply keeping hold of the ball.

With a similar number of tackles and interceptions when put up against the other contenders, and more clearances (1.9 per game) than any of the other four, both Steve Cotterill and Lee Johnson knew what they would get out of the midfielder – a dependable, battling stalwart, able to run a game from midfield.

It’s Pack’s ability to pick a pass that allows him to run otherwise tough and competitive games, often with ease. The influence he had in initiating attacking moves was arguably understated. Of the five midfielders listed, Pack’s 0.9 Key Passes per game are only beaten by Brownhill’s 1.1, and an average of 57.1 passes per game drastically supersedes the 28.6, 34.2, 36.4 and 48 of Massengo, Smith, Nagy and Brownhill respectively.

The ability to pick up the ball deep and play progressive passes into the opposition half and final third, thereby breaking through the opponents’ press and getting City on the front foot within seconds of a goal-kick or lull, has been the factor of Pack’s game most missed since he set foot in South Wales. Partner this with the fact that only Brownhill exceeds Pack’s 1 shot per game, and the lack of attacking intensity can be so obviously traced back to the lack of the 29-year-old.

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Pack (far right) was an integral member of the 2014/15 double winning City side.

Can Ádám Nagy fill this role, like he was most likely intended to do? The answer is probably not, but with the support of a consistent partner, or partners, and a suitable style of play, it is possible. A player of Pack’s ilk isn’t particularly common in the modern day, but they are around – you just have to look for them.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.

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