Nigel Pearson reitearated after the game on Saturday that it was purely a selection issue that club captain Tomas Kalas was not in the 20-man squad to face Brentford.
The Robins were playing out their final game without their skipper, who truth be told has been way below his performance levels in the last few weeks.
We say that with conviction because Kalas told us that himself too.
“If they [supporters] want to question my last performance or the last two, trust me, especially the last performance, I know it myself that I didn’t play anywhere near as good as I should have,” he said ahead of heading to Millwall, in the wake of two losses against Wycombe and Luton.
Pearson said on Saturday that Kalas needed a “break” and there may be some personal circumstances behind that. Though Dan Bentley was left out the week before, as the manager examined his full squad ahead of a summer rebuild.
Kalas has not been immune to the criticism from outside the club this year following a dismal campaign, and the central defender did not seem his usual laid-back self when we spoke to him ahead of the Millwall defeat, a game which included an uncharacteristic error from the 22-cap international, leading to Tom Bradshaw scoring.
Nigel Pearson bristled when we asked about Kalas’ error after the match. No doubt the incident has been discussed recently, but that is just one huge error in a long, long season that started with promise but has slowly disintegrated into mere survival.
The Czech Republic international came off social media earlier in the campaign as the results and league position plummeted.
We appreciated his straight-talking in the wake of Dean Holden being fired, however, and it sums up Kalas’ outstanding attitude. Let’s not forget that the twice promoted-defender was chosen by Holden to lead the side this season, way back in September.
“Obviously, I’m trying to stay off of social media as much as I can because it’s loads of bo****ks happening there,” he said in February.
“Sometimes it happens that I just can’t hold myself back. I think the less I say, the fewer problems I’ll create because I don’t want to go into a conversation. You don’t see as much as we do.
“I’m not saying you personally, I’m saying people who are sitting behind Facebook, or Instagram and just comment on statistics, and whatever is happening.”
Kalas fronted up at vital times of a wretched season and as captain that was only too right. We always felt that there was an honesty from the former Chelsea man however.
On the pitch, away from the last three games, the central defender has been one of few players to emerge with credit.
Warrior-like displays at Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham recently paved the way for positive results, which have helped to keep the nosediving Robins in the division this year.
And Kalas played more minutes – 3,383 – than any other outfield player this season. His personal Bristol City best of 40 appearances (two from the bench) marked his three years at Ashton Gate, the first being on loan of course.
In a congested season filled with back-to-back matches and little recovery time, and a spate of injuries, possibly the worst in the EFL by our estimation, and with international games and weekly COVID-testing, to be the last man standing is a worthwhile accomplishment.
Dan Bentley fully deserved the supporters’ award, don’t get us wrong. Kalas deserves a mention of outfield players though.
Don’t accept our view of the 27-year-old? Statistically the centre-back was rated as Bristol City’s best performing player this season bar Alfie Mawson, who only played 11 games and so is discounted from our thinking for longevity reasons.
The well-respected WhoScored website rates Kalas behind only the Fulham defender, judging by in-match Opta statistics, such as interceptions, tackles and aerial duels won.
A highlight of his campaign was undoubtedly the winning goal against Coventry from Jamie Paterson’s cross in the 82nd minute of the first game of the season. Kalas’ first City strike back when everything looked rosy in red.
There have been plenty of ups and downs across the year and far more positives from the defender. Kalas was there for pretty much all of it, clattering into challenges and withstanding shoulder and hip knocks that threatened to derail his campaign. Without him, City most likely would have been relegated.
A revolving door of centre-back partners (Mawson, Vyner, Mariappa, Baker, Moore and even Rowe and Bakinson for a few minutes) has not helped him at the back.
Bigger picture: is it his fault that the brilliant Adam Webster was whipped away from his side and not adequately replaced?
Kalas’ durability and performances offer a massive improvement on last term when he had two bad injuries too. He made just 23 appearances in 2019/20 and rated statistically worse too. The £8m signing from Chelsea remains a BS3 bedrock for next term.
Don’t let the last few games, and a loss of confidence that will soon return, cloud your judgement of the fine defender. Though we believe Pearson may consider other captaincy contenders, which can be regarded as not unusual for a new manager arriving and wishing to stamp his authority on the team, the onus is on Kalas to find his best form again. We back him to do just that, especially as he reflects on a fine individual eight months of the last nine.
Perhaps one memorable refrain earlier in the campaign saw Kalas accurately sum up the situation:
“It didn’t happen over one month that we just became s**t players.” Quite, right, Tomas. Now to reinvigorate and rebuild.
There is an old Czech proverb that may be as pertinent as some of Kalas’ comments: “Co je doma, to se počítá”. What’s at home counts.