It’s a somewhat lazy statement to make, but over the years, Sunderland have often been blessed with a good stock of goalkeepers. Obviously, we’re not including the class of 2017-18 in this, being the king of all outliers, but otherwise this cliché is very much accurate.
Go back 25 years to Thomas Sorensen’s arrival, we’ve seen top class keepers in Simon Mignolet, Craig Gordon and Jordan Pickford, and a run of the dependable, if not too flashy, with Darren Ward, Marton Fulop, Vito Mannone and Jon McLaughlin.
Even when we found ourselves stuck in League One longer than anyone planned, we still ended up with the keeper who found himself in the team of the year, with Lee Burge.
The point is, Sunderland fans know a decent keeper when they see one, thanks to decades of not having to worry about who’s in nets – again, 2017-18 aside. There is, therefore, no greater compliment I can pay to the rise of Anthony Patterson over the last not-even-two-years-yet, that the majority of Sunderland fans have accepted that he is the man for the job right now.
It’s incredible to think of just how Patterson came to be Sunderland’s undisputed number one, as it was only in August of 2021 where he was called upon out of the blue to make his league debut, keeping a cleansheet against Wimbledon, following it up with a steady display against Wycombe a week later.
Though he largely didn’t put a foot wrong in either game, it was clear to see that he still looked a youth teamer being asked to step up, which, for a keeper in particular, is a big ask.
He looked timid, almost as if he wasn’t sure he should be able to give commands out to his defence, although there was no doubt about his shot-stopping.
So off he went on loan to Notts County of the National League, up against big rough and tumble players, in a bid to get Patterson to look and act the part a little more suited to a league goalkeeper.
Then in one of the great sliding doors moments of our club’s recent times, COVID and COVID-related health issues took out both Burge and Ron-Thorben Hoffmann, meaning Patterson was recalled from his loan spell and thrown straight back into the first team.
Unfortunately, his return coincided with one of Lee Johnson’s trademark nosedives, as we drew 3-3 with Wycombe when we really should not have played the game, and then got picked apart by Chris Maguire’s Lincoln in the very next game. However, once he’d put together a run of (admittedly, soul-destroying) games between Johnson and Mike Dodds, something seemed to just fall into place quietly for Patterson around springtime of 2022.
Patterson quietly grew into his role as our promotion season reached its climax, and he has not missed a single league game since February 8 last year. We’d all grown used to the fact that Patterson was a more than capable shot-stopper, but he’d seemingly equipped himself with a new found confidence from his loan, and was able to set up a good relationship with Danny Batth and Bailey Wright in front him, as well as develop a great knack for being able to claim and hold tricky-looking crosses flashing across the box.
Of course, the moment we all realised we were in safe hands came at Wembley, where Patterson timed his advance perfectly to snuff out Sam Vokes’ one-on-one effort as the game ticked over towards crunch time.
Since rising to the Championship, Patterson looks an entirely different player from the one we saw back in August 2021. He may well be guilty of the odd mistake – the only real weakness appears to be distribution, and decision-making on when to come for trickier crosses – but once you remember that he’s still only 22 and playing in only his second season of first team football, he has plenty of time to iron that out of his game.
Simply put, Patterson looks every bit a solid Championship keeper, and with years ahead of him, there’s no reason he won’t continue improving.
With rumours doing the rounds that he’s about to be called up to the England U21s, and train with the senior squad, there’s not much further justification you need give when it comes to Sunderland fans knowing their stuff when it comes to keepers.
His progress has been staggering when you consider how inexperienced he was only a year ago, to now being named the North East Football Writers’ Association Young Player of the Year, touted for that England call-up, and of course, the inevitably whispers of Premier League interest from the likes of Leicester City.
Patterson will be playing Premier League football in the near future, we can only hope that it’s with us, but our much lauded business model suggests that he may be one of many academy products we bring through and sell on for a (hopefully) hefty fee.
So, let’s enjoy him while we have him.