How do you solve a selection problem like a keeper?
Across the pitch Sunderland have a whole host of selection dilemmas and at this current moment in time, it feels like an embarrassment of riches in nearly every position.
Though most of the team seems relatively well set, certain players are almost certainly playing with the added gusto only competition can bring - but within that has come a perhaps unlikely selection dilemma in an area most fans would have claimed was looking a little lightweight less than a fortnight ago.
On one hand we have Lee Burge, with over 100 appearances in League One, even at the age of 28, Burge is the elder statesman in this dilemma. Adequately experienced at League One level, Burge has (for the most part) been a reliable figure between the sticks for Sunderland.
As time has worn on, critique of Burge has ramped up with a growing expectation for Sunderland to acquire an improvement from what is a steady League One operator. Due to such a standing, Lee Burge is somewhat underwhelming to the eyes of many Sunderland fans who have been treated to some wonderful (and some far from wonderful) goalkeepers in the last 20 years.
Whilst a capable shot-stopper and a regular feature in the side, Burge does also have his weak points in terms of his distribution and command of his area as well as his propensity for the occasional howler - par for the course for a League One stopper.
On the other then, we have the young buck. Anthony Patterson is far less experienced than his counterpart but as a new dawn seems to rise over Wearside, Patterson may never have as good an opportunity to burst into the Sunderland set-up again. Whilst one man’s nightmare is another man’s dream, Burge’s absence between the sticks has allowed Patterson a rare chance to show his capabilities.
Whilst not overly stretched in his recent appearances in the first time, he has given indications as to where his capabilities lie - even if some are rawer than others. In contrast to Burge, Patterson seems a far more pro-active keeper, willing to come into ’sweeping’ roles to receive the ball as well as showing a willingness to collect crosses into his six-yard area. Another main positive is his distribution - quick, accurate and long.
Patterson shows shades of Jordan Pickford in his distribution with long hanging kicks and the coveted ability to hit ’sidewinders’ for fun. Fortunately for us, Patterson hasn’t been asked to do much shot-stopping, but when he has the results again have been positive. The only real downside to Patterson so far is his lack of experience in the first team, which can be invaluable to a keeper of his age.
So where does that leave us? It’s a tough one to call.
At this stage in the season and with confidence high, there may never be a better time to give Patterson a run in the side, even if that does manifest itself into a ’sink or swim situation. On the more cautious side, is sticking with Burge the right move considering his wealth of experience behind a youthful backline and how valuable will his experience be over the course of a season?