As it was, Dyche raised the Clarets from their Riverside slumber. Fortunate to be level at the break, they came out showing Aitor Karanka’s men less respect thereafter and delivered a much-improved second half performance, progressing to the fourth round when Stephen Ward hooked home a George Boyd miscued volley with around 20 minutes to play.
With the admission that his players are human, though, was a cue for backing MK Dons to beat the Lancashire side when the bread and butter resumes on Tuesday. Because, deep down, the Burnley players know there’s not a huge amount riding on their league matches at the moment and they haven’t been too convincing on the road over the past three months in any case.
The long-term markets tell the story. The Clarets are just 4/7 to reach the play-offs, yet 12/1 to clinch automatic promotion and 40/1 to win the title. If they don’t finish between third and sixth, it would be a big surprise, whatever happens at stadium:mk. Footballers aren’t daft. They know when they really need to raise their game and the FA Cup might now jostle for priority.
So therein lies the basis for backing Karl Robinson’s men at 12/5. That and shot data, which suggests there’s actually very little between the two teams. Over the past 10 matches, the Clarets have only collected an extra two points and the Dons shot ratio is actually superior, at 44.6 per cent compared to 42.4 per cent.
Burnley have had the tougher fixtures over that period but you can stretch the sample to 24 matches (everyone against everyone) and still Milton Keynes emerge as slight favourites on home soil. That assessment doesn’t allow for the obvious differences in quality at both ends of the pitch but if improving MK score the all-important first goal, they can hold out and give their survival hopes a massive boost.
Defeat at the KC Stadium means the Seagulls have gone eight hours without finding the net, a clumsy foul by Lewis Dunk allowing the Tigers to progress with a Robert Snodgrass penalty shortly before half-time. It was the third time in the space of a month that a rash decision by the 24-year-old centre back had cost Albion, leaving Hughton to bemoan ‘individual errors’. In short, the players are tired mentally and confidence is low.
There’s no great secret about Rotherham. They are going to be hovering around that dotted line for the remainder of the season but while they remain above it, they have everything to play for and they’re approaching games with enough verve to test any side not at their best. It’s all a bit hit-and-miss but four wins and five defeats in nine matches since the November international break suggest the price is worth chancing.