ANTHONY PATTERSON knows all about remarkable footballing journeys. In the space of five months last season, the Sunderland goalkeeper went from keeping goal with National League side Notts County in front of crowds that could be numbered in the hundreds to starring at a sold-out Wembley as the Black Cats secured promotion in the League One play-off final.

Yet even the North Shields-born 22-year-old has to admit that he has been taken aback by the transformation during the current campaign that has seen Sunderland morph from a side content with stabilising in the second tier to a team heading into the final game of the season hoping to finish in the top six. Even for the Black Cats, a club well used to a rollercoaster existence, that has been quite some shift.

“The season’s gone so much better than anyone could have hoped,” said Patterson, whose first season as a Championship footballer has also seen him gain a maiden call-up to the England Under-21 squad. “If you look over the course of the season – the injuries we’ve had, playing with no centre-halves at the minute, Rossco (Ross Stewart) missing the majority of the season – we’re still in with a chance going into the last day, which is really impressive.

“I don’t think anyone could have imagined, last summer, that we’d be in this situation. I think consolidation was what was on everyone’s mind, even if they didn’t say it out loud, but we’ve smashed that and hopefully we can do enough to get in the top six.”

If Sunderland are to secure a play-off spot, they have to win at Preston on Monday. Then, they have to hope that either Coventry City lose at Middlesbrough or Millwall fail to take all three points from their home game against Blackburn Rovers.

Their fate is not in their own hands, but when it comes to what is needed at Deepdale, the equation could hardly be simpler. Win, and Sunderland have a chance. Lose or draw, and their season is over.

“It’s going to be some finish,” said Patterson. “We know what we need to do - we just have to win and hope that everything else takes care of itself. We can’t do anything about Coventry and Millwall and Blackburn and West Brom, we just have to do our bit, win at Preston and hope that the other things fall into place.


“We have to do our job and then when the full-time whistle goes, we can look at the other results and see if we’ve made it into the top six.”

Whatever happens, Patterson can take immense personal pride from his performances over the course of the last 12 months.

Alex Neil gave the youngster his break in the second half of last season, and Tony Mowbray has continued to back him unequivocally throughout the current campaign.

Patterson’s performances have led to increasingly strong links to clubs in the Premier League – Leicester City appear to have the strongest interest at this stage – with a host of memorable moments standing out. Asked to choose one, the academy product takes a second or two before plumping for February’s penalty save in a 3-0 win over QPR at Loftus Road.

“I think that penalty save was probably the personal highlight,” he said. “That was some feeling – I was buzzing. We were winning 1-0 and after that penalty save, we went on to score another couple of goals and win the game quite comfortably in the end.

“But there have been so many highlights really. As a team, we’ve scored so many great team goals, playing good football. The team has got a really good identity, we like to get the ball down and pass it about – that’s the kind of players we have, clever, technical players.

“When we get the ball to them, they make things happen. They want to play, and they want to excite the fans and make sure they are enjoying it as much as we are on the pitch.”