THE binmen of Burnley look set for a busy week as thousands of Owen Coyle facemasks are tossed into the town’s recycling system.
Once the must-have accoutrement for Turf Moor regulars it seems they are about to become as redundant as last week's Christmas trees.
Burnley chairman Barry Kilby is braced for a phone call, this morning, from Phil Gartside, his Bolton Wanderers counterpart, asking for permission to speak to Coyle. Kilby’s instinct will be to refuse but it seems increasingly clear that Coyle wants to go and the conversation will eventually turn to how much compensation can be wrung out of Bolton owner Eddie Davies. A figure of £4m has been reported but that seems exaggerated given Coyle is unlikely to be on as much as £1m-a-year. Burnley supporters will be bitter, but no more than St Johnstone fans after Coyle left Perth for Lancashire two years ago.
Ostensibly the 20-mile switch seems an odd one, a sideways move at best, but after a decade around the Premier League Bolton’s infrastructure is far superior to Burnley’s and there is a sense that the latter may have, for the moment, risen as far as they can. Coyle also has an attachment to Bolton, having spent two seasons there from 1993-95, and may feel he owes Gartside, who recommended him to Burnley.
Coyle refused to speak to the media after Saturday’s victory. Club officials said he had to dash off to catch a flight back to visit family in Scotland but no one believed this was anything but a red herring. By avoiding questions Coyle did not have to lie, but his silence spoke volumes.
In his absence his assistant, Sandy Stewart, was flung to the pack. Stewart said he could not speak for Coyle, and had not discussed the issue with him, but added he would expect to go with Coyle should he move. Stewart also struck a valedictory note when he said, “We think we have done a reasonable job at Burnley. We have put them in good standing.”
If Coyle does leave he will be one short of 50 victories in the Burnley dug-out, Saturday’s match being his 49th success in 116 games. As befits a manager who first came to note overseeing cup runs, both sides of the border, Coyle picked a full-strength side for this third-round tie and was rewarded with a straightforward win.
It helped that MK Dons gifted them two goals in 12 first-half minutes. Graham Alexander tucked away a spotkick with his usual aplomb after Mathias Doumbe had felled Steven Fletcher in the box following an error by Craig Lewington. Doumbe then played Fletcher onside, allowing him to convert Chris Eagles’ pass. Had MK’s finishing matched their approach play, notably that involving the excellent Jason Puncheon, they could have snatched a draw, but Dean Morgan’s 89th-minute goal was too late.
The League One side were left to reflect on taking another small step to establishing their own identity. Burnley were the first professional visitors to Milton Keynes, six years ago, when MK Dons still went by the name of Wimbledon, the club whose identity they purloined.
While that move remains controversial the huge difference between the basic National Hockey Stadium, which hosted Burnley then, and this putative World Cup venue, underlines the club’s progress. The swathes of empty seats suggested Pete Winkleman’s message has yet to reach much of the Milton Keynes public, but the sight of so many young faces in the ones that were occupied augured well for the future.
MK Dons (4-3-3): Gueret; Howell, Woodards, Doumbe, Lewington; Puncheon, Gleeson, Leven (Stirling 78); Easter (Morgan 78), Wilbraham, Baldock (Chadwick 55). Substitutes not used: Johnson, Carrington, Gobern, Powell.
Burnley (4-4-2): Jensen; Eckersley, Duff, Bikey, Kalvenes; Elliott, Alexander, McDonald (Gudjonsson 70), Eagles; Blake; Fletcher (Thompson 87). Substitutes not used: Penny (gk), Edgar, Easton, Guerrero, Harvey.
Referee: T Bates (Staffs).
Booked: MK Dons: Easter, Doumbe
Man of the match: Puncheon