On Thursday evening, it was announced that Anthony Patterson had been named as the North East Football Writers’ Association ‘Young Player of the Year’ for 2022.
It was the latest boost for a goalkeeper who’s experienced a remarkable rise during the past eighteen months.
From earning rave reviews at Notts County, to a Sunderland recall, to displacing Thorben Hoffmann and being part of a promotion-winning team and now establishing himself as our number one in the Championship.
Since that game at Adams Park in early 2022, Patto has rarely looked back and has taken the challenges he’s faced in his stride. Remember that save from Sam Vokes in the League One playoff final, for example? That showed the kind of rock-solid mentality that any elite goalkeeper needs, and certainly in the cauldron of a Wembley final.
Indeed, the fact that he’s followed in the footsteps of Jordan Pickford, winner of this award in both 2016 and 2017, speaks volumes about Patterson’s talent and more importantly, his potential.
We love a homegrown success story at Sunderland and after witnessing some genuine horror stories between the sticks at the Stadium of Light over the years (Steele, Camp, Ruiter, and so on) to see a local lad in such a position is something that everyone can get behind.
There’s no doubt that the young stopper has a very high ceiling, and under the tutelage of Alessandro Barcherini, he’s got every chance of developing his game further and continuing to play a major role in what’s shaping up to be an exciting season for Sunderland.
On the other hand, the major voids in Patterson’s armoury - command of his area and a willingness to cajole and organise his defence with a Pickford-like authority - have yet to be fully addressed, and his distribution can sometimes be hit-or-miss, too.
The fundamentals of his game, his shot-stopping and reflexes, are both strong, but can he take that next step in becoming more of an on-field leader and someone who, like the great Thomas Sorensen, wasn’t afraid to have stern words with his defenders if he felt they weren’t doing their jobs?
At twenty two, Patterson is some way short of the optimum age range for a goalkeeper, and he’s not flashy or flamboyant. He’s reliable, and he goes about his business in low-key fashion, which in the cut and thrust of the Championship, can be a blessing and a curse.
Sometimes a rollicking from your goalkeeper can inspire you to make that extra challenge and to throw your body in where it hurts. If he can add that to his already-impressive skillset, everyone will benefit enormously.
This leads us to the transfer market, and to say the least, it would’ve been very interesting if Leicester’s Daniel Iversen had joined the club last summer. Surely such a move would’ve lit a fire under Patterson and given him even more impetus to raise his game to new levels, but the deal didn’t materialise and he’s not been challenged since.
Now that January has arrived, it seems unlikely that a third senior goalkeeper will be joining the club during this window, which would leave us with Patterson and the relatively untested Alex Bass (whose distribution caught the eye against Shrewsbury last weekend) to push each other for the goalkeeper’s jersey for the remainder of the season.
Are they a duo who could provide a promotion-winning presence in goal?
We’ve seen Patterson make big saves at crucial moments, and as the season continues and our aspirations grow, he’ll doubtless be under the microscope to an even greater degree. He deserves time and patience, but at the same time, the demands are only likely to grow, and that’s when we’ll see what he’s truly made of.
Darren Ward was the most recent first-choice goalkeeper to taste promotion as part of a Sunderland team.
The Welshman was a real unsung hero for Roy Keane during the 2006/2007 season, and if we are to mount a playoff challenge during the remainder of this campaign, Patterson needs to be ruthless in his quest for improvement. I’m confident that he can do just that, and a solid performance against Swansea tomorrow is the ideal starting point.