The question at Stadium MK last night, after Burnley held off MK Dons' spirited rally to win this third-round tie, was which team will Owen Coyle be looking out for when this afternoon's fourth-round draw is made – Burnley or Bolton?
Coyle left the query unanswered, ducking the media because, it was claimed, he had to rush to Luton Airport to catch a flight to Scotland where he was to have a belated Hogmanay celebration with his parents. When he comes back south, however, the money is that his destination will not be Turf Moor but the Reebok, as successor to the sacked Gary Megson.
His assistant, Sandy Stewart, was elliptical. "It's just like the speculation that linked him to the Celtic job in the summer, as of now it is just speculation. I do know he is very happy at Burnley. We have worked very hard and think we have done a reasonable job at Burnley. We have put them in good standing."
Asked if he would accompany Coyle should he move – and Burnley insist there has been no approach – Stewart said: "We have a great partnership, at St Johnstone and here. Whatever happens hopefully that partnership will continue. At this moment in time that is at Burnley."
If this was his last match Coyle's clear intention was to go out on a high. Premier League survival may be Burnley's priority but he picked his strongest available team. Initially deploying a 4-4-2 Coyle soon had to reshape his side. With Paul Ince having unexpectedly fielded Jason Puncheon in midfield, Graham Alexander and Kevin MacDonald were outnumbered in the middle. Chris Eagles was switched to the right, Robbie Blake moved wide left, and Wade Elliott brought into central midfield.
Even with the teams balanced, Burnley's superior quality was not immediately obvious, half-chances for Sam Baldock and Aaron Wilbraham being the only incidents of note in the opening quarter.
Then came the first of two self-inflicted wounds. Dean Lewington attempted to shield the ball as it ran towards the byline only to be robbed by Steven Fletcher. He jinked into the box, Mathias Doumbé stuck a leg out and Fletcher fell over it.
"I'm not sure it was a penalty," said Ince. "I think the referee got sucked in." Its legitimacy did not worry Alexander who duly scored off the post to make it 16 penalties from 16 for Burnley, 71 from 76 in his lengthy career.
Doumbé sought to make amends, but headed into Brian Jensen's arms after Wilbraham had flicked on Peter Leven's long throw. Then MK self-destructed again, the back four attempting an offside trap so hapless a pub team would be embarrassed. Fletcher ran through it, on to Eagles' pass, and scored.
Maybe Burnley became complacent, or MK relaxed, but whatever the reason the home side finally began to create chances. Jensen fielded a free-kick from Puncheon then denied Danny Woodards before Doumbé had a shot scrambled off the line following a mêlée.
In a more open second period Eagles hit the bar, then Jensen made good saves from Leven and Luke Chadwick as the impressive Puncheon drove MK forward.
The home crowd sensed that, if MK scored, a replay could be forced. They did score, but it was in the 89th minute when Dean Morgan chested down Jude Stirling's cross and volleyed in. Despite a late bombardment of Stirling's long throws it was too late.
"I'm proud of the lads," said Ince. "I said to them after the game it was a pleasure to watch. It is disappointing that their goals came from our mistakes but we had enough chances to win the game. We could have scored four in the second half."
Their failure to take them means Burnley go into the hat, and what are the odds of them drawing Bolton?
Referee: Tony Bates
Man of the match: Puncheon
Match rating: 7/10Reuse content