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Joe Jones
Joe Jones

Joe Jones: Ross Fitzsimons will come back a wiser, better player after his moment of madness against Crawley Town

Much like in politics, a week - or to be precise in this case, two - is a long time in football.

When Notts County learned of their FA Cup fourth-round opponents, quite a lot of fans would have been happier to be up against Swansea City than against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

After all, one is a team top of the Championship with momentum, players way too good for the division and shedloads of cash, while the other is a down-and-out team with morale the same as their position in the Premier League table - ie rock bottom - and couldn't score in a brothel.

Notts, meanwhile, had enjoyed a decent enough festive period, began the year with victory over Port Vale to entrench their place in the top three of League Two, and had put in a superb performance to beat Championship Brentford on their own turn in the FA Cup third round.

Then, over the following two weeks since the fourth-round draw, Swansea City have drawn against Newcastle and beaten Liverpool in the league, as well as overcoming Wolves in the cup, while Notts have drawn one and lost two in the league to put their automatic promotion hopes in jeopardy.

Another transformation is that of Ross Fitzsimons. When he came along at the FA Cup fourth-round draw event at Meadow Lane, he could do no wrong. After Adam Collin suffered his long-term injury, a lot of people were worried about just how good the back-up keepers at Notts were.

Fitzsimons was drafted in, a big ask for a 23-year-old who had virtually no experience of senior league football, but over the coming months put in impressive performance after impressive performance to leave fans wondering whether Collin was going to simply reclaim his first-team place.

And then, came the moment when he went from "hero" to "zero" in the eyes of a lot of fans - Crawley Town, Meadow Lane, Tuesday 22 January 2018.

Notts were level with their opponents in injury time but had just been reduced to 10 men and were hanging on, but they had possession as Fitzsimons claimed the ball from a corner and set himself up to lump it upfield while the outfield players made their respective ways forward up the pitch.

And then came the glitch in the matrix - Fitzsimons, still in possession of the ball, kicked out at Mark Connolly, who then made the most ridiculous fall since the ref that was nudged by Paolo di Canio all those years ago, and by the rules of the game, red card and penalty.

I admit I described the ending to the game as "shambolic", and it certainly was. You can understand to a degree how a footballer can get so riled up that they lash out at another, and you have to wonder whether Connolly had said something to Fitzsimons prior that made him lash out.

But at the same time, as football mistakes go, it's pretty big - I'd compare it to an own goal scored by a player who decided to pull off some inexplicable stunt and, predictably, it backfires - Lee Dixon's own goal in Arsenal v Coventry is a prime example of it. Not deliberate, but so daft that it feels like it may as well have been.

Predictably, heads were lost among the Black and White Army, many of whom wanted to see Fitzy dropped from the first team entirely or sacked outright for the incident. It all felt like a pitchfork-wielding mob.

Yes, it was a bad mistake. Yes, it cost Notts a point and deprived them of yet another goalkeeper at a time when things are wobbly and ahead of a crucial cup tie against PL opposition.

But Fitzsimons will know this. He will be absolutely mortified to have succumbed to his red mist and his confidence will undoubtedly have taken a hit, especially how he will now be powerless in the stands watching his team in action when they need him the most.

And he will learn from it. Kevin Nolan has had his fair share of brain farts over the years as a player and, even though he probably gave Fitzsimons a rollocking behind closed doors, he's come out in support of his player and will be good guidance to helping him overcome this blip.

In the meantime, there's a chance Collin could return to contention and, if not, Branislav Pindroch will be given his own chance to try and make the number 1 spot his own.

So in conclusion, the best thing to do is to keep faith in Nolan and in the club, and I'm sure when Fitzsimons returns from his ban, he will be a much better, wiser player.

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He'll know he's done wrong, I am certain he will admit that his decision to lash out cost us three points - however I won't hold it against him. Professional football is very competitive and, sometimes silly incidents occur. You just move on and forget.

Fitzsimons deserves that at the very least.

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