AS Tony Mowbray freely admits, tomorrow’s play-off decider at Luton Town will ask some new questions of some of his players.

Will his makeshift defence be able to cope with an anticipated aerial bombardment from a Luton side who know they have to win to have any chance of making it to Wembley? Will his exciting young attackers be brave enough to stick to their game when the pressure is ratcheted up? Will his players be able to keep their heads amid the intimidating atmosphere of a hostile Kenilworth Road.

Time will tell, but when it comes to the key question that will be levelled at his goalkeeper, Mowbray is pretty certain he already knows the answer. Will Anthony Patterson be able to command his 18-yard box and help out his diminutive centre-halves if Luton start hurling long balls to the Sunderland goal?

Patterson celebrated his 23rd birthday earlier this week, making him one of the youngest goalkeepers in the whole of the Football League, let alone just the Championship, and with Luton relying heavily on the physical attributes of their forwards, he is about to face one of the toughest tests of his fledgling career. Having watched the North Shields-born goalkeeper flourish over the course of the last nine months, though, Mowbray is confident he will pass it with flying colours.

“I think Patto’s been important for us all season,” said the Black Cats boss, who inherited a side with the North-Easterner stationed between the sticks and saw no reason to change things despite his goalkeeper’s inexperience. “He’s had an amazing year for such a young guy.

“Nothing seems to faze him. It’s interesting what sort of goalkeepers people like really – they either like a big, calm, undemonstrative goalkeeper or they prefer a lad who’s what I might call a box of frogs, bouncing everywhere, shouting at people left, right and centre.


“Patto’s definitely the first one. He’s big, he’s calm, he’s quiet. But he gets on with it and does an amazing job. He influences the football match, he makes big saves. He comes and takes crosses, which could be important for us in this game, and his positional play is really, really good.”

Patterson got his break in the second half of last season, returning from a loan spell at Notts County to force his way into the Sunderland team ahead of Lee Burge and Thorben Hoffmann. He starred in last season’s play-off final, making a crucial save from Sam Vokes to prevent Wycombe from equalising with their best chance of the game, and has flourished in the Championship, with his performances having earned him a maiden call-up to the England Under-21 squad.

Mowbray has been delighted with his performances, and senses his presence between the sticks could be a key factor in tomorrow’s decisive semi-final second leg, with his very first glimpse of Patterson sufficient to persuade him he had a special talent on his hands.

“I remember the first time I saw him,” he said. “A cross came in from the opponents’ right wing and he was outside his six-yard box taking it no bother at all.

“He wasn’t stuck to his line or stood near his front post, he was stood waiting for the cross. It’s amazing that a young guy can have the confidence in his ability to take up the starting positions that he does.”

While Patterson might be an undemonstrative character, he is an influential figure within an extremely young Sunderland dressing room.

Most of the Black Cats’ most experienced players are injured, and while Danny Batth, Corry Evans and Ross Stewart will be part of the squad that travel to Luton, passing on their thoughts and guidance in the build-up to the game, Patterson will be a key on-field presence if things start getting fraught once the action begins.

Luke O’Nien and Lynden Gooch are the most senior figures within the starting line-up, and having played prominent roles in last season’s successful play-off campaign along with Patterson, they could have crucial roles to play at Kenilworth Road.

“The core of the side are still pretty young footballers,” said Mowbray. “Luke’s 28, Lynden’s 27, but they’re the senior players. It’s an interesting concoction really, because we’ve got a few of the French-speaking lads thrown into the mix too, so it’s a huge credit to them that they’ve kept the togetherness of the group really tight.

“I like the O’Niens and Goochs of this world because they’re the gel really. They’ve been through some tough times here. Gooch has been through the back-to-back relegations and felt a dressing room that doesn’t really work or hasn’t clicked. He’s a driving force for us.”