When Josh Sims raced the length of the pitch to pro­vide the assist that sent Southamp­ton to Wem­b­ley in 2017 it was wide­ly assumed to be the start of a great career, not the pin­na­cle.

That game was the sec­ond leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final in which the Saints trav­elled to Anfield with a slim 1–0 lead cour­tesy of a Nathan Red­mond strike in the first leg.

With Vir­gil Van Dijk miss­ing the clash at his future home sta­di­um through injury, it was a real under­dog tale as Jack Stephens came into the side to part­ner Maya Yoshi­da in defence. Liv­er­pool expect­ed­ly had the major­i­ty of the ball – with their 72% pos­ses­sion the kind of fig­ure Southamp­ton fans have become accus­tomed to see­ing from their side under Rus­sell Mar­tin this sea­son – but only man­aged to reg­is­ter three shots on tar­get due to the dogged defend­ing of Claude Puel’s side.

In the 81st minute, Puel turned to his bench and brought on 19-year-old Sims. Ten min­utes lat­er, in the 91st minute, Southamp­ton cleared a cor­ner to Sims on the edge of their own box. The tur­bo-charged young­ster pro­ceed­ed to remark­ably run the length of the Anfield pitch before slip­ping in Shane Long who sealed a Wem­b­ley final against Man­ches­ter Unit­ed.

What happened to Josh Sims?

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Southamp­ton ulti­mate­ly lost 3–2 to Unit­ed in the final in dev­as­tat­ing fash­ion as Manolo Gab­bia­di­ni was wrong­ly denied a hat-trick; his third goal clear­ly onside but in a pre-VAR era the goal was ruled out.

For Sims, though, the semi-final assist was to be the begin­ning of a tumul­tuous few years. Short­ly after that famous assist, Sims suf­fered a knee injury which kept him out for a peri­od of nine months and strug­gled to ever get him­self back into the team at Southamp­ton, with a high man­ag­er turnover not help­ing his cause.

A trio of loan spells fol­lowed, with Sims spend­ing time at Read­ing, New York Red Bulls and Don­cast­er Rovers before even­tu­al­ly being released by Southamp­ton at the end of the 2020/21 sea­son.

After a promis­ing start whilst on loan at Don­cast­er, Sims picked up a ham­string injury which saw him return to his par­ent club for treat­ment and this is where the issues real­ly start­ed.

Sims, reflect­ing on the peri­od to The Ath­let­ic in an arti­cle from Novem­ber 2021 explained that: “At the start of Jan­u­ary, my ham­string was all done and I was fit enough to go back to Don­cast­er. I had signed all the paper­work and then had a call from the doc­tor at Southamp­ton. I thought they were call­ing just to send me on my way, but they told me I had test­ed pos­i­tive (for Covid-19). I didn’t have any symp­toms, but back then you had to self-iso­late for two weeks.

“Through­out the two weeks, I didn’t have any symp­toms. I thought it was a false pos­i­tive. I went back to Don­cast­er after a cou­ple of weeks, but I nev­er felt the same.”

Despite the lack of symp­toms expe­ri­enced at the time, Sims felt lethar­gic and, after sus­tain­ing a glute injury, a loss of appetite and weight loss led to a diag­no­sis of ulcer­a­tive col­i­tis. Cur­rent Southamp­ton mid­field­er Fly­nn Downes has also strug­gled with bow­el issues this sea­son which have seen him miss games on more than one occa­sion.

Things would get worse still, though, as the med­ica­tion Sims took to deal with his bow­el issues caused myocardi­tis – a heart con­di­tion – that led to months where the winger could not even leave his bed, let alone con­sid­er return­ing to a foot­ball pitch.

How­ev­er, despite his heart issues and being out of the game from May 2021, Sims has recov­ered well and in Feb­ru­ary 2022 man­aged to resume his pro­fes­sion­al foot­ball career, albeit whilst tak­ing med­ica­tion for his myocardi­tis.

Ross County handed Sims a return to football

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Scot­tish Pre­mier League side Ross Coun­ty were the club that took a chance on Sims, now 26, as he secured a return to the game.

He is still at the club, hav­ing played 56 times since his return, scor­ing four goals and pro­vid­ing one assist in all com­pe­ti­tions.

Whilst it may not be the dizzy­ing heights of pro­vid­ing the assist en route to a Wem­b­ley final, the fact Sims is play­ing in Scotland’s top flight after an incred­i­bly chal­leng­ing few years in which he believed he may nev­er play foot­ball again is a huge feat in itself.

Coun­ty are strug­gling this sea­son, cur­rent­ly occu­py­ing the rel­e­ga­tion play-off spot. They are just one point below St John­stone above them though, and will hope to leapfrog their rel­e­ga­tion rivals to secure anoth­er sea­son in the SPL.

Hav­ing start­ed sev­en league games this sea­son but been subbed on 14 times, Sims will hope to play a big­ger part in his club’s bat­tle for sur­vival between now and the end of the sea­son.

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