Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s job was hanging by a thread after 10-man Manchester United slumped to an “embarrassing” 4-1 defeat against Watford on Saturday.
United’s fifth defeat in seven Premier League matches ramps up the pressure on the Norwegian manager to extreme levels as club bosses decide whether to pull the plug on his reign.
They were out-fought and out-thought by Claudio Ranieri’s feisty Watford side, who came into the match after losing four out of their past five league games.
Watford dominated the first half and thoroughly deserved their two-goal lead at half-time, courtesy of goals from Joshua King and Ismaila Sarr.
The visitors pulled a goal back early in the second period through substitute Donny van de Beek but could not find an equaliser and captain Harry Maguire was sent off with just over 20 minutes to go.
Substitute Joao Pedro finished off United’s hopes with a late third and Emmanuel Dennis rubbed salt into Solskjaer’s wounds.
But a defiant Solskjaer said he still believed in his ability to turn things around at the beleaguered club.
“I always have belief in myself but of course at the moment it’s a difficult time for us,” he said. “I can trust every single one out there to give what they have, the staff is fantastic.”
“I believe we can turn this around,” he added.
United goalkeeper David de Gea pulled no punches after the dispiriting performance, which left his team languishing 12 points behind leaders Chelsea.
“Embarrassing first half — we could’ve conceded four goals in 45 minutes,” he said. “It was hard to watch the team playing today — it was nightmare after nightmare. It’s not acceptable.
“We are trying to give our best and fight for the team but for sure something is very wrong. You can see in the games — it’s very low level, very poor. Sorry to the fans, once again.”
Vicarage Road was gripped by early drama when referee Jonathan Moss pointed to the penalty spot in the sixth minute after United midfielder Scott McTominay bundled King over in the box.
Sarr’s weak penalty was saved by the Spaniard but Kiko Femenia fired in the rebound only to see his goal ruled out by VAR for encroachment into the box.
Sarr retook the kick but De Gea again saved to keep the score goalless.
Watford looked the more dangerous side as the half wore on, with United struggling to establish any semblance of control.
They took the lead they deserved when King side-footed home a cross from the impressive Dennis.
Watford scored a second just before the half-time break when Sarr made up for his earlier penalty miss to slot past De Gea from the edge of the box.
Solskjaer waked down the tunnel at the break assailed by chants of “You’re getting sacked in the morning” as he desperately plotted a way back into the match.
He threw on Van de Beek and Anthony Martial for Marcus Rashford and McTominay and the changes paid early dividends when Van de Beek headed home from close range in the 50th minute.
Bruno Fernandes fired wide before Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster produced a superb save to deny Ronaldo.
But United’s task was made all the harder when Maguire was shown a second yellow card in the 69th minute for a challenge on Tom Cleverley.
Pedro made it 3-1 and Dennis struck home from the right side of the box to send the raucous Watford fans into ecstasy.
Solskjaer was without 20-year-old Mason Greenwood, who has tested positive for coronavirus.
United face a crunch Champions League trip to Villarreal on Tuesday before travelling to Premier League leaders Chelsea next weekend but there are now serious doubts over whether Solskjaer will survive.