"I'll always love that football club." Those were the words of Owen Coyle after he divorced Burnley for managerial matrimony with Bolton three weeks ago. As a former player, his affection for the latter was hard to resist, but there will be mixed emotions when the two sides meet at the Reebok Stadium. "As much as there's been things said that people might regret, that's a club that I want only the best for," he said on the eve of tonight's game. But in football it is difficult to have two loves and there is too much at stake for sentiment.
The Burnley fans who branded him a "Judas" know that. So will Coyle. Should he be able to orchestrate a victory against his former club it will take Bolton out of the bottom three and, perhaps significantly, above Burnley in the table. Recent form suggests that this will be the scenario at the end of the season; something that obviously played a part in Coyle's departure. Despite his best efforts and some admirable early-season displays, Burnley were always likely to figure in the relegation battle. They do not have the resources and, crucially, the quality of the sides around them.
At Bolton, Coyle can afford to leave the £9 million (Dh53m) Swedish international striker Johan Elmander on the bench. "Everybody is fighting for their place in the team and their position. That is how it should be, it is a healthy environment to be in," said Bolton's Gary Cahill. Brian Laws admitted he had a tough act to follow as the Burnley manager and was at the Reebok for Coyle's first game in charge against Arsenal. Laws will have noted Coyle has invoked a spirit that has led to marked improvement in Bolton's performances.
The same cannot be said of Burnley following two losses under Laws, against Manchester United and at Reading in the FA Cup on Saturday. They look a side devoid of confidence and still mourning the loss of the inspirational figure who took them into the top flight against all expectations. Clarets midfielder Chris McCann said: "I think when we go in it will be weird seeing him after what he did for the club. But you have to forget about that. We've got a new gaffer in who is confident he's going to do well and we're confident of doing well under him."
@Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Bolton v Burnley, midnight, Showsports 4