This article is part of Football League World’s ‘FLW Greats’ series, this content strand is where we look back at a player’s individual season and discuss how impressive they were…
Looking back, it could be argued that Blackburn Rovers were taking something of a risk when they signed Bradley Dack from Gillingham back in the summer of 2017.
While the attacker had claimed League One’s Player of the Year award in the 2015/16 campaign, the season before his move to Ewood Park had been less spectacular, with Dack scoring just five goals and providing five assists as Gillingham avoided relegation to League Two by just a single point.
Nevertheless, with Rovers needing a spark to turn their fortunes around following their relegation from the Championship the season before, they turned to Dack, paying Gillingham a reported £750,000 for the attacker, which would ultimately prove to be one of the club’s biggest bargains of the past few decades.
Initially, things got off to a rather slow start for Dack, who failed to score in any of his first seven games for the club, as Rovers endured a stuttering start to the campaign that left them languishing in mid-table, with three league defeats already to their name.
But then, with one trademark instinctive close-range finish from Dack to earn Rovers a 1-1 draw at Shrewsbury in the eighth game of the campaign – a goal the importance of which would only become clearer as the season wore on and the Shrews became one of Rovers’ closest rivals for automatic promotion – everything changed.
After that first Rovers goal for Dack at the New Meadow, neither he nor his side, would ever really look back again.
Rovers would go onto to lose just three more games in the entirety of the league season – one of which came at Charlton after promotion had been secured – with Dack at the heart of that promotion-winning campaign.
The attacker, who quickly became a talismanic figure for Rovers with his ability to pop up at just the right place at just the right time to put the ball in the net, added 17 more goals to the one he got at Shrewsbury before the campaign was out.
It wasn’t just the frequency of the goals provided by Dack that was impressive, but the importance of them with regards to Blackburn’s season as well.
Without Dack’s goals, Rovers would have ended that league season 12 points worse off than they actually did, which given they eventually finished nine points clear of third-placed Shrewsbury – remember where Dack got his first goal for the club? – shows just how crucial he was to that promotion, something perhaps best exemplified by two Thursday night games in front of the Sky Sports cameras late in the season.
The first came at the end of March, just two days after an international break that meant Rovers had to play the game without captain Charlie Mulgrew following his duty with Scotland, when Tony Mowbray’s side welcomed an out of form Bradford to Ewood Park.
In a game that Rovers were firm favourites to win, the Lancashire club found themselves struggling to break down a resolute Bantams side, until, with three-quarters of the game gone, Dack latched until a through ball from Corry Evans, should a nice turn of pace to break into the Bradford box, before cooly slotting home to give Rovers a vital breakthrough.
Craig Conway then doubled Rovers’ advantage from Dack’s parried effort to seal a 2-0 win that lifted Blackburn from third to first in the League One table, giving them a crucial momentum boost heading into that final push for promotion.
Then, four games later, and after back to back draws at Bristol Rovers and Gillingham, Rovers again opened the League One weekend with the visit of play-off chasing Peterborough, knowing that a win would put them within three points of securing promotion.
But at half time, it was Posh who would deservedly lead thanks to an own goal from Mulgrew on the stroke of the interval, and yet again, it would be Dack who stepped up to get Blackburn out of a hole in what would become an unforgettable 45 minutes for those of a Rovers persuasions.
Minutes into the second half, Dack took advantage of a slip in the Peterborough defence to head home Derrick Williams cross and draw his side level.
Rovers were now in the ascendency, and they would take a lead that had been coming with less than ten minutes to go, Dack thundered a header off the crossbar, allowing Danny Graham to nod home the rebound and give Rovers the advantage, which was then sealed in stoppage when who else but Dack pounced inside the area to make it 3-1 in stoppage time.
Five days later, Dack’s corner was headed in by Charlie Mulgrew 81 minutes to go in their clash with Doncaster at the Keepmoat Stadium, and barely ten minutes later, scores of Rovers fans were piling onto the pitch to celebrate a 1-0 win that had sealed their immediate promotion back to the Championship.
With promotion secured, all that was left for Dack to do was gather up the awards, with the attacker lifting both the club and the league’s player of the season trophies, in recognition of his remarkable contribution to Blackburn’s promotion campaign.
Having continued to carry such importance for the club since their return to the Championship following that promotion, it seems there can be no doubt that in the end, Bradley Dack has been £750,000 well spent for Blackburn Rovers.