LEE JOHNSON is confident Anthony Patterson is ready to become one of Sunderland’s two first-team goalkeepers this season – and has told the 21-year-old not to be afraid of taking risks as he attempts to establish himself as a senior shot-stopper.

With Remi Matthews having left the Black Cats at the end of last season, there is a vacancy for a goalkeeper to compete with Sunderland’s established number one Lee Burge.

Johnson still has the option of recruiting an experienced campaigner for the role, but with the start of the new League One season now less than a fortnight away, the Sunderland head coach appears to have primed Patterson for the position.

The Tyneside-born youngster signed a new two-year deal in June, underlining the Black Cats’ faith in his talents, and played in the first half of Saturday’s 4-0 friendly win at Harrogate Town.

He could well feature again when Sunderland continue their pre-season preparations with a trip to Tranmere Rovers tomorrow, with Johnson having been extremely impressed with the rate of his development over the last few months.

“Is he (Patterson) ready? That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? I think so,” said the Sunderland head coach. “I certainly trust him.

“There’s definitely areas of his game that we want to add, and that he wants to add too, but of course that applies to all of the players as well.

“He’s done everything that could have been asked of him. He’s a fantastic shot-stopper, and has really improved with his feet, and on the tactical side of where the spare man is.

“He’s a good lad. I’d like him to be a bit more vocal, but that’s something we can encourage as much as possible, to bring out of him.”

Sunderland are set to appoint a new goalkeeping coach shortly, with the former incumbent of the position, Lee Butler, having left to reunite with former Black Cats boss Phil Parkinson at Wrexham.

Ex-Sunderland shot-stopper David Preece is one of the candidates to have been interviewed for the role, having stepped in to help during this month’s training camp in Scotland, but the lack of a permanent specialist means Johnson has been spending more time with the goalkeepers than might otherwise have been the case.

He has strong opinions on how he wants his goalkeepers to perform, with a willingness to be proactive and take risks a key requirement.

It was noticeable that both Patterson and Burge came from a number of crosses at Harrogate at the weekend, something Johnson will continue to encourage as the season progresses.

“I want my goalkeepers to be bold, which you’ve seen through pre-season,” he said. “They’ve probably caught more crosses in the pre-season games than in last season – I can’t remember that many crosses that the keepers came out and caught last season.

“For me, I’d much rather my goalkeepers were making those kind of bold mistakes that not being proactive. You’re allowed to make a mistake in a bold manner – then you can bounce back and have genuine feedback.

“I played with David James as an example of a keeper who came for everything. He dropped a few, and we conceded one or two from it, but the intent was there and he probably snuffed out way more goals than that every season just by being so positive.

“It’s almost about deferring the blame on to me. If that happens, unless it’s a fumble or something like that, then it’s a tactical decision that we’ve made to come for those crosses.

“That’s what I’m trying to do, and that’s why you need a pre-season. You can make the mistakes in pre-season and learn from them, and no one’s bothered. But it gives you a consistency of the good stuff that you’re trying to do.”

Sunderland head to Prenton Park this evening with Johnson set to use his side's penultimate friendly as a final opportunity to experiment and get game time into players who need it, ahead of Friday's home game with Hull City, which will much more of a genuine warm-up for the season opener against Wigan Athletic eight days' later.

Bailey Wright, who continues to be heavily linked with a potential move to Wigan, is set to start this evening, along with Will Grigg, who is also the subject of strong external interest from last season's loan employers MK Dons.

However, Johnson will also select a number of youngsters, with Josh Hawkes expected to feature after recovering from Covid.