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What is Patto’s ceiling?

All the talk this season has been about Sunderland’s young players, and with good reason, but the man between the sticks has gone about his business quietly. How far can he go?

Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

His superb save to deny Oldham an equaliser in the second half was a show of what this lad is capable of. No disrespect intended to Lee Burge and Remi Matthews, but at this stage - with Sunderland in League One, and both senior keepers out of contract in the summer - I see little point in persisting with them. We aren’t going to see any improvement in their performances, and we’ve arguably seen enough of both to suggest they’re not quite up to standard. You certainly wouldn’t want either of them between the sticks should we defy the odds and gain promotion to the Championship - they’d both struggle playing a division up.

Patterson, however, has room to develop and improve. Physically he is ready - he’s a big lad with broad shoulders. He likes to come off his line to claim crosses with both hands, which is a rarity in modern goalkeeping these days. His kicking is straight out of the Mark Prudhoe play book, adopting the sidewinder that Jordan Pickford, another Prudhoe prodigy, has developed a reputation for. His shot stopping is good - he’s agile and alert.

Why not give this boy a chance? Play him. Make him first choice. Why not?

I wonder which wise old owl wrote that?

That would be me, two years ago, after a Papa Johns win at Oldham.

Now I’m not claiming that I’m Piet de Visser or owt, but I’ve been a big fan of Anthony Patterson since the first time I saw him for our under-23s - although, it was a game I caught by chance in the Northern League when he was on loan at Sunderland RCA where he first properly caught my eye.

“That lad there is on loan from Sunderland” said my mate, pointing at the goalie. I had to look him up - it was true, he was the next big thing coming through the youth sides apparently, and despite his boyish stature it was easy to see why.

There are actually some very good players in the Northern League, but the sight of an actual proper goalkeeper in a game between amateurs is one to behold. Even though he was just a bairn, it was evident he was a class above.

I kept an eye on him whenever I got across to Eppleton to watch the U23s too, and at a time when our kids team was absolutely terrible, Patterson never let himself down. Quiet and unassuming, yes, but a player who went about his business in the best possible fashion and never really put a foot wrong.

Fast forward to now and we’re seeing pretty much the same Anthony Patterson, albeit more experienced, and I think it’s his relatively normal personality that stops him from standing out. Most goalkeepers are a bit mad, a bit loud, and full of life - Patto just does his job and does it well. And I’m absolutely fine with that.

Sunderland v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

Most of the talk this season has been about the raft of youngsters that have burst onto the scene in red and white, but Patterson’s progression from understudy to established number one at this club has been meteoric.

At the age of 22 it’s logical to assume that his best years are still ahead of him, but to see him performing at the level he is currently is a sign that we could have a top class stopper on our hands if he continues to improve, and continues to turn in good performances in the Championship.

He’s not perfect - who is? - but he’s very good at the basics, which isn’t something you can say about many goalkeepers, even at this level.

There’s no obvious weakness in his game, but I keep noticing the little improvements that are adding up to the overall package that he is - he’s getting stronger, he’s growing in confidence, his handling of the ball is improving, his distribution is improving, his command of his area is solid, and he’s keeping clean sheets.

So, what’s his ceiling?

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Like Pickford before him, he comes from good stock and with time I can see him playing at a higher level. Unlike Pickford, though, I hope and think that he’ll do that with Sunderland.

For all of Pickford’s quality, he was and still is a huge personality - he stands out not just for his footballing ability, but for his character and the energy he brings to the team.

I don’t think Patterson will ever be that type of goalkeeper, but maybe that’s a good thing for us - maybe he’ll continue to go about his business quietly, doing a job for us and continuing to improve at the same rate as the rest of the side.

Not that my aim when writing this piece was to heap pressure onto the lad, because I know that would be counterproductive - but, I just hope that he continues to work hard, continues to improve, and who knows... he could end up being one of the most important players at the football club not just now, but for many years.

Here’s hoping.


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