It is often amazing to witness how much things can change in one season, and all things considered the rise of Anthony Patterson to the position of first choice goalkeeper is quite remarkable.
At the beginning of the 2021/2022 campaign, it would be fair to suggest that few Sunderland fans would’ve foreseen the impact he has made this this season, particularly considering his inexperience, and the fact that Lee Johnson had bolstered his ranks with the acquisition of Thorben Hoffmann at the end of August.
Hoffman’s arrival resulted in Patterson embarking on a loan spell with Notts County in League Two, where he made ten appearances before returning to a Covid-hit Sunderland squad in early January.
Prior to his loan move, I can recall him playing two games in late August, against AFC Wimbledon and Wycombe at the Stadium of Light. Sunderland won both games and only conceded one goal in the process.
During his first league start against Wimbledon, Patterson did not look out of place, and he gave off the aura of being an impressive shot-stopper with a real presence about him.
That being said, I do remember conversations with some of the lads on the podcast after the Wimbledon game, where we discussed the performance of our young goalkeeper and whether he would become a first team regular going forward.
The general consensus was that the future was bright, but at that stage, a loan spell would be the best option for him.
Lee Johnson seemed to agree, and subsequently persisted with Hoffmann and Lee Burge, which led to Patterson’s opportunities being limited.
By January, however, the picture had changed.
Johnson had departed, and the arrival of Alex Neil as manager represented a great chance for Patterson. Prior to this, Hoffmann was the clear choice of not only Johnson, but also of the interim management team that took over for the games against Doncaster and Cheltenham.
Hoffmann started the game against Doncaster, and it is likely that he would have retained his place against Cheltenham a few days later, were it not for the German being struck down with illness.
As the old saying goes, ‘one man's misfortune is another man's opportunity’, and in this context, it feels entirely appropriate. Patterson has played in every single game since Neil’s arrival, and has gone from strength to strength in the process.
He strikes me as a player that Neil is fond of, and I can see why he showed such strong faith in him.
Simply put, he is a keeper who does his job without much drama, is physically strong, confident without being arrogant, comfortable on the ball, and who commands his box with authority.
There is a real sense of ‘no frills’ about him. He does the basics well, makes very few mistakes, and generally guards his goal and penalty area with aplomb.
Sometimes in life, the timing of things is just right.
Between Hoffman’s illness and Neil’s arrival, the stars seemed to align for Patterson. Indeed, his subsequent performances have been so steady, that there has been little or no talk of the fact that he was third choice at the beginning of the season.
As much as any other player, I feel that he benefitted from the arrival of our new manager. Neil’s emphasis on keeping us compact, tight and defensively sound ensured that the goalkeeper (whoever it was) was not going to be exposed.
One can only assume that this gave Patterson great confidence as the weeks went on, and he was consistently keeping clean sheets. It afforded him time to settle, as well as the security of having such a solid defence in front of him.
Conversely, I wonder how he would have fared under the open and expressive style of Lee Johnson, had he not been sacked.
For me, he has been one of the unsung heroes of our successful playoff campaign. His performances against Sheffield Wednesday were solid, and his display in the final was superb.
Prior to the game, I expressed concern that Patterson would be targeted by Wycombe, not least because they gave him a wretched time during our previous league encounter, with a number of crosses and high balls into the box.
This time around, however, he oozed confidence and composure, and showed very little in the way of nerves or anxiety.
During the first half in particular, corners were being aimed towards him, and he dealt with them all with minimal fuss. Indeed, any neutral observers could have easily mistaken him for an experienced goalkeeper, such was the standard of his performance.
All of this shows exactly how far Patterson has come in a short space of time. At such a tender age, one would like to think that we could have a really decent prospect on our hands, and a player who could be around for the foreseeable future.
Although time will tell with that particular question, Patterson’s role in Sunderland gaining promotion will not, and should not be underestimated.