Towards the end of Sunderland’s playoff semi-final victory over Sheffield Wednesday, Anthony Patterson dived to his left to catch the ball after it was played into the box and was flicked on by one of the home attackers.
In a classic demonstration of time-wasting, he augmented the save with the familiar ‘lying on the ball and not letting go’ trick, thereby eating up a few more precious seconds as we attempted to see out the game.
In his Sky Sports commentary, the entirely neutral and unfailingly objective ex-Wednesday defender Andy Hinchcliffe described it as a ‘save for the cameras’, and although the former Owl might have been a bit peeved at Patto’s antics, he wasn’t too far off the mark.
Admittedly, the save was somewhat theatrical, and the replays made it look even more so, but Patterson wasn’t exactly channeling the spirit of René Higuita, and at that stage of the game, such shenanigans are to be expected.
Perhaps it was simply a little bit of a windup, an action that said, ‘I’m fully in control here. We’ve got this, and we’re not letting it go’, but either way, it was an eye-catching and somewhat amusing moment in a game filled with dramatic turns.
To my mind, Patterson, like many of his young teammates, came of age at Hillsborough.
The game was fast, furious, and physical, and although there was one lapse in concentration when he allowed the ball to roll off his foot for a corner, Patterson was generally calm and composed, and regathered himself impressively after Wednesday levelled the score on aggregate.
Such experiences are vital in shaping the profile of any young player, and this was another crucial stage in his development.
In late March, my Roker Report colleague Paddy Hollis wrote about how Patterson’s career trajectory seemed to be heading upwards at a rapid rate, and how he looked set to make a big impression at Sunderland, following a loan spell at Notts County.
Indeed, when he was recalled, many County fans were sad to see him leave, and there seemed to be a consensus that he was ready to take on the challenge of League One.
Since then, and following his integration into the first team, I would argue that not only has Patterson made the positive impression we all hoped, he has shown genuine signs that he could cement his place as our first-choice goalkeeper for the foreseeable future.
With Lee Burge still on the road to recovery, and a very talented goalkeeper in Thorben Hoffmann now relegated to a backup role, Patterson has seized the opportunity to play a major part in our late-season run.
The composure and maturity that he has shown in recent weeks has been nothing short of superb. He has been pitched into a pressurised position at a pivotal time of the season, and has rarely looked out of place or overawed by the challenge.
Given that essentially every game in which he has played has been a high-stakes encounter, with any error potentially proving costly, Patterson has taken it in his stride, and in general, his performances have not resembled those of an inexperienced player.
What I find most impressive about him is the manner in which he commands his penalty area, and the authority he exudes, despite his tender years.
It goes without saying that Patterson’s performances have been aided by two key factors - Alex Neil’s focus on defensive solidity and organisation, and the superb individual form of Bailey Wright and Danny Batth.
With two experienced warhorses in front of him, Patterson is going about his business confidently, and safe in the knowledge that he is rarely going to be exposed. At any level of football, the relationship between a goalkeeper and his defenders is crucial, and in our case, it is one of the foundations on which our current form has been built.
Perhaps the most exciting point to consider is that Patterson, at 21, is still extremely young for a goalkeeper, and his potential is enormous. I would love to think that he will remain on Wearside for as long as possible, and continue to develop his game, hopefully in the Championship!
Everyone loves to see a local lad making the grade at first-team level, and when Patterson walks out at Wembley in the playoff final, it will be a story that ranks alongside Dan Neil’s emergence and the influence of Elliot Embleton on many games during this season.
It would be ridiculously premature to anoint Patterson as ‘the next Jordan Pickford’, but it is wonderful to see another promising goalkeeping talent emerge from our youth system. Let’s hope the production line can keep rolling in the years to come.