Watford failed to ease their relegation fears in the wake of Nigel Pearson’s surprise sacking as they were hammered 4-0 by a Raheem Sterling-inspired Manchester City.
Defeat means the Hornets’ battle to stay up will go to the final day of the season on Sunday, when they visit Arsenal.
Pearson became the Hornets’ third managerial casualty of the campaign on Monday, leaving Under-23 coach Hayden Mullins and his assistant Graham Stack in charge for their final two games.
And they could hardly have had a tougher first assignment than against City, who completed the double over them with this win, at an aggregate score of 12-0 – a joint Premier League record for one team against another in a single season.
Sterling took the game away from the home side before half-time, firing in a rising shot to open the scoring before doubling the advantage by following up his own saved penalty – awarded for a foul on him by Will Hughes.
Phil Foden added a third after Ben Foster had parried a Sterling shot before Aymeric Laporte nodded in from Kevin de Bruyne’s free-kick.
City’s fourth straight league win could have been even more emphatic but Gabriel Jesus had an injury-time header ruled out for offside.
This could well be important to Watford, with goal difference potentially a crucial deciding factor going into the weekend.
The defeat leaves the Hornets 17th, three points above Aston Villa and Bournemouth – all three clubs have the same goal difference of -27.
A Villa victory over Arsenal later on Tuesday will mean the Hornets start Sunday in the bottom three, with their fate no longer in their own hands.
Pearson’s sacking came out of the blue, as the former Leicester boss was still within sight of securing Premier League survival – the remit given to him on his appointment in December.
Having taken over with the club seven points adrift at the bottom of the table, he won seven of 20 matches – results that not only lifted them out of the bottom three but also gave him the best win percentage of any Watford boss since they were promoted in 2015.
Pearson, though, is now the past and Mullins, his players and the rest of the club are left to consider a worrying present and potentially devastating future.
They were outclassed by City, barely allowed a kick in what amounted to an exercise in damage limitation from the moment the visitors broke the deadlock.
They were allowed just 23.7% possession and managed just two shots at goal, neither on target. The only time they threatened in any way was when substitute Danny Welbeck got in behind the City defence but saw a tame, poked effort saved by Ederson.
That goalkeeper Foster was the Watford player who attempted the most passes (29) tells a story in itself.
So too does the fact their team pass total was a paltry 232, against the visitors’ 750. City midfielder Rodri alone made 131.
All they can do now is hope that Villa fail to get a result against Arsenal and that they can then get something themselves against a Gunners side who beat City just a few days ago.