Nigel Pearson has been sacked as Watford head coach with two games remaining in the season, as the club looks to avoid relegation from the Premier League.
Pearson's assistant Craig Shakespeare has also been dismissed, with U23s coach Hayden Mullins and goalkeeping coach Graham Stack placed in temporary charge of first-team affairs.
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The former Leicester and Derby boss replaced Quique Sanchez Flores in December with Watford seven points adrift at the bottom of the Premier League, immediately overseeing a run of four wins in his first seven matches - including Liverpool's first defeat of the season.
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However, the Hornets have only recorded two wins since the restart with Friday night's 3-1 defeat to fellow relegation rivals West Ham meaning they sit just one place and three points above the drop zone.
That result means Watford need to take four points from their final two games against Manchester City and Arsenal to be certain of avoiding relegation.
"Watford FC confirms that Nigel Pearson has left the club with immediate effect," the club said in a statement released on Sunday evening.
"Hayden Mullins, with Graham Stack as his assistant, will take up the position of Interim Head Coach for the Hornets' final two Premier League fixtures of the 2019/20 season.
"There will be no further club comment."
Pearson went into Watford's training ground on Sunday evening to pick up the remainder of his personal belongings and say goodbye to a few key people.
He is the third managerial sacking by Watford this season, following Javi Gracia and Quique Sanchez Flores in being shown the door.
Pearson, appointed on a short-term contract until the end of the season, only told Sky Sports last week of his hopes to remain at the club next season with Premier League status assured.
"We discussed this right back when the lockdown started because it was important to clarify that there was a commitment to do the job," he told Sky Sports
"Both Craig [Shakespeare] and myself, when we joined, our intention was to do what we can this year to retain our status and then go from there. I've really enjoyed working here and yeah I would love to stay if the circumstances are right and all parties are in agreement."
However, following the defeat to West Ham, the club decided Pearson was not the man to take them forward and would like to consider their options ahead of next season.
Analysis: Ruthless Pozzo strikes again after slump
Sky Sports' Ron Walker:
Whatever way you look at it, Nigel Pearson's achievement in getting Watford to the brink of Premier League survival when he took over a team with eight points from 15 games, and seven adrift of safety, is seriously impressive.
But Watford owner Gino Pozzo has shown plenty of times that numbers only mean so much at Vicarage Road. Four years ago, he sacked Quique Sanchez Flores at the end of the Hornets' first season back in the top flight despite finishing 13th, because of a perceived dull style of football and a slump in the second half of the season.
Watford's season of change
- September 7, 2019: Javi Gracia sacked after picking up one point from four games, four months after leading Hornets to FA Cup final
- September 8: Quique Sanchez Flores returns to Vicarage Road on two-year deal, four years after leaving
- December 1: Flores sacked after one win in 10 games and just 85 days in charge
- December 6: Nigel Pearson appointed as third manager of season
- July 19, 2020: Pearson sacked two days after 3-1 defeat at relegation rivals West Ham
Pearson's apparent crimes may not be dissimilar. 14 points from his first seven games in charge have been followed by 11 from the next 13.
Talisman Troy Deeney has managed to win more headers than any other Premier League player since the manager took over - but that is more a demonstration of the philosophy of substance over style which the Hornets have adopted in an attempt to secure their survival.
There have been highlights. Initially Pearson's 4-3-3 set-up, utilising the previously overlooked young danger-man Ismaila Sarr, looked inspired.
However, once the honeymoon period was over, an unbalanced defence did little to help, nor an ACL injury ending Gerard Deulofeu's season during their best performance of the campaign, stunning Liverpool 3-0 in February.
Under Pearson, Watford have picked up 1.5 points per game with the Spanish winger in the team, barely half that without.
An inability to affect a game became another growing criticism of the manager from fans. Their recent back-to-back wins over Newcastle and Norwich, both from behind, were most noteworthy because the Hornets had conceded first in eight of their previous 10 games, but managed to pick up only a solitary point from them.
Undoubtedly, Pearson's dismissal is harsh and will be treated as such. Keeping Watford in the Premier League appeared a mammoth task when he took the reins, and now with two games to go and a three-point cushion over the bottom three established, he will not get the chance to enjoy the fruits of his labour.
But Pozzo has rarely cared about sentiment. On past form, the Watford chief will already have an oven-ready appointment up his sleeve. However, at the end of an already chaotic season of upheaval at Vicarage Road, that now seems far from guaranteed.
Whoever takes over at Watford, in the process becoming the Hornets' fourth manager since September, may need four points from their first two games to secure Premier League survival. The pressure is well and truly on.
Pearson dismissal 'a huge surprise'
Speaking on Sky Sports News, former Brighton and Newcastle manager Chris Hughton believes the timing of Pearson's dismissal is a risk by the club's hierarchy.
"With two games to go, and two pivotal and such important games to go, it's a huge surprise," Hughton said.
"These are huge decisions and you either get these decisions right or you don't and I suppose if Watford were to stay up or to get a result from their final two games, which are two very very difficult games, then the hierarchy would see it as a good decision.
"But it's still a huge surprise as Nigel Pearson has done an excellent job. You have to look at it with the perspective of where they were at the point where he took over. He's done ever so well."
'Watford have a lack of faith in managers'
However, fellow Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp is less shocked, stating the club's hierarchy are all too ready to sack managers.
"I think it's a lack of faith [for Watford] in managers full stop. It's their fourth manager this year, and that suggests they've never been happy.
"They are a club that decide to sack managers. I'd like to say I'm surprised but I'm not. That's how they do it. With two games to go it's an incredible decision.
"Maybe the result and the performance against West Ham - alarm bells were ringing, maybe players were talking, they're not happy as well, so they've decided to do something.
"Watford do it like that, they've always sacked managers and are quite comfortable doing it."