Pressure builds on struggling managers
The new year has not brought much cheer for four Premier League managers after Wednesday's results put them under severe pressure to keep their jobs.
Chelsea's sensational form slump continued as they lost 1-0 away to Wolves, leaving Carlo Ancelotti searching for answers, while Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson - already believed to be on the brink of being replaced - saw his side fall to a heavy 3-1 defeat at Blackburn.
At the bottom of the table, Avram Grant's lowly West Ham were thrashed 5-0 at Newcastle and Aston Villa fell into the relegation zone by virtue of Wolves' win and their 1-0 loss at home to Sunderland, prompting fans to call for Gerard Houllier's head.
All four clubs are performing well below their respective expectations this season and while Hodgson, Houllier and Grant are all new to their clubs this season, the decline of Ancelotti's Chelsea has in some ways been the most surprising. From winning the domestic double last season, Chelsea find themselves all but out of the title race just over halfway through the season and currently sit outside the Champions League places in fifth having won just one of their past nine league matches.
Asked after the Wolves result if he was confident he was the right man for the job, Ancelotti said: "Yes, I know this team very well and I'm sure that this moment will change and we will be able to fight for everything this season. I would be surprised if I am sacked. I don't fear (for my job). I'm worried because the team doesn't reach the result. I think it's obvious we are not good enough in this moment.
"It's not my decision. I hope I can continue this job, because I would like to stay here and I have a good relationship with the players and with the club."
Hodgson is the bookmakers' favourite to be axed next and after Liverpool's latest defeat, which left them in 12th just five points better off than rock bottom West Ham; he gave a two-minute interview in which he answered just three questions after the defeat at Blackburn. Liverpool legend and current club advisor Kenny Dalglish is heavily rumoured to take over from Hodgson on a temporary basis.
Hodgson said: "I am not prepared to talk about [my future] because obviously I am depressed enough with the performance and the result. I have no comments to make and I have no intention to answer any questions on the subject. [I feel] dejection, bitter disappointment, frustration. I am very disappointed for the fans who gave us good support and saw the team concede the goals we did."
Houllier was more upbeat despite being the manager to lose in front of his home supporters as Phil Bardsley's goal inflicted Villa's 10th loss of the season, already two more defeats than they had across what became Martin O'Neill's farewell season last term.
Villa fans chanted "you're getting sacked in the morning" but Houllier tried to brush off the jeers, saying: "I heard it and it hurts. But I when I hear the chants it strengthens my resolve to put things right. I spoke to (chief executive) Paul Faulkner and he was very supportive. I don't doubt (chairman) Randy Lerner's firm support and determination. We are in this together for better or worse."
Wolves' victory also left West Ham on the bottom again as the Hammers' mini-revival ended with a bang thanks to a hat-trick by Newcastle striker Leon Best and goals from Kevin Nolan and Peter Lovenkrands at St James' Park.
Grant said: "I feel confident I'm the man to lead us out of trouble. Look what we've done before this game. We were on the bottom but playecd good football to take points and climb up the table. That result is difficult to explain. It was a bad day at the office."