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Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One

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Sunderland’s new look blend of youth and experience give the Black Cats an upwardly mobile look

The starting XI at SR5 is starting to look much different than previous incarnations. Ian Bendelow says we must have patience - and trust...

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

Donald Rumsfeld was trying to articulate something back in 2002, he just didn’t realise he was also referring to a Sunderland pre-season almost 20 years later.

To the majority of supporters there are known knowns. For example, it was obvious that last season too many ageing footballers were clogging up the squad; not that all the central midfielders were exactly the same, they were just not dissimilar enough to pose different questions to the opposition.

Then there are known unknowns. Simply put, who are we going to sign? When? And how much will we spend? Johnson spoke of a data driven approach to the recruitment process, and this was what we wanted to hear. Kristjaan Speakman’s words meanwhile, were high on intention and low on detail, so scepticism remained.

New Sunderland Manager Press Conference Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

When the first signing was announced, we were presented with a small, one-paced central midfielder who had a wider knowledge of muscle injuries than a trainee physiotherapist; I’m being slightly unfair on Corry Evans here because he has looked very promising so far, despite the fact he may well have already twanged something.

However, this was not exactly a move away from the 2021 vintage. It begged the question, who is our chief scout, Phil Parkinson?

As the pre-season slowly ebbed away, people who shouted the loudest on social media had an undue prominence given to their thoughts - which can be erroneously attributed to a far wider section of supporters than is the reality. Where are our signings? Why haven’t we broken (our own) League One transfer record? KLD is Donald’s man! In fact, I’ve never seen them in the same room! KLD is a front!

As such, the batsh*t conspiracy theories swirling around Wearside made anti-vaxxers look like the Women’s Institute.

This has also given the impression of a toxicity which hasn’t existed - the reaction to the Wigan opener last weekend being a case in point.

It seemed to me it was simply negativity borne of a consequence of being unable to admit they were wrong, wanting to remain relevant, and be the ones to say “I told you so”.

Or maybe the fear was ultimately worrying about losing games that would have otherwise been won with a full squad.

Nevertheless, it hasn’t been a good look. And here’s the thing: we have no divine right to know the inside leg measurements of our transfer plans or budgets.

Happily in the last week, things have become much clearer as to what the plan is. The blend of youth and experience looks extremely promising. Against MK Dons, the average age of the starting XI was 25 - including three teenagers - for the playoff semi final at home to Lincoln it was 28, and the youngest player that day was 25.

This mix was in clear evidence against MK Dons. Critically the younger players in the team are being trusted, not only to drive the side forward to get the lead, but to protect it, and to cope under pressure. It is very refreshing.

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Phil Smith of the Echo tweeted earlier about a new era - and I’m inclined to agree - this is the first time it has felt this way since Charlton three years ago: hopefully this time it is not a false dawn.

Some of our support should just accept that sometimes there are unknown unknowns - and maybe, whisper it quietly, just be happy they can actually go to the game again.

Until we lose to Burton on Tuesday.

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