WATFORD, UNITED KINGDOM (AFP) - 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 (Nov 20), with club bosses reportedly set to hold an emergency board meeting.
United are in disarray after a fifth defeat in seven Premier League matches left them 12 points behind leaders Chelsea and out of the title race after just 12 matches.
Recent painful defeats against Liverpool and Manchester City ramped up the pressure on Solskjaer but the reverse at Vicarage Road could be the final nail in the coffin for the 48-year-old.
Claudio Ranieri's feisty Watford led 2-0 after dominating the first half against the shoddy visitors, courtesy of goals from Joshua King and Ismaila Sarr.
United pulled a goal back shortly after half-time through substitute Donny van de Beek but their job was made much harder when 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.
The United boss said he still believed in his ability to turn things around at the beleaguered club, apologising to angry fans.
"I feel for the fans and I feel the same as them," he told Sky Sports.
"We know we are in a very bad run and a bad situation, but that's football and I know they'll support whoever is on the pitch every day and sometimes you've got to say 'Sorry'".
Solskjaer said the recent signings of Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane had raised expectations at Old Trafford, but the club has gone backwards quickly after finishing second last year.
Goalkeeper David de Gea was even more scathing in his assessment of United's poor display.
"It was hard to watch the team playing today - it was nightmare after nightmare," he said. "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."
The Sunday Times reported that United had called an emergency board meeting to discuss Solskjaer's dismissal, saying the virtual gathering was scheduled for 1900 GMT (3am on Sunday, Singapore time), with Solskjaer's compensation terms on the agenda.
The former United striker is a hero to fans for his goals on the pitch, most famously his winning goal in the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich.
But he has failed to deliver silverware in his three-year reign and results have tailed off alarmingly in recent seasons.
United face a crunch Champions League trip to Villarreal on Tuesday before travelling to Premier League leaders Chelsea next weekend and US owners the Glazers fear losing touch with the top four.
Watford could have been in front in the opening minutes but De Gea saved Sarr's penalty after referee Jonathan Moss ordered it re-taken following encroachment into the box.
The home side 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 failure to slot past De Gea from the edge of the box.
Solskjaer walked 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 Scott 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.