Steve Bruce has been given three matches to save his job as manager of Birmingham City or face football's ultimate indignity — departure by mutual consent.
The 1-0 defeat at home to Norwich on Tuesday night meant that Birmingham have slipped to ninth in the Championship table, 11 points away from the top position that they occupied a month ago.
Bruce has vowed not to resign but there is increasing disillusionment among supporters and growing suggestions that the manager is unlikely to steer Birmingham back into the Premiership.
Bruce last night staged a meeting over the telephone with David Gold, the Birmingham chairman, and David Sullivan, the club's co-owner, both of whom have urged calm at St Andrew's in the wake of recent setbacks.
I understand, however, that Bruce could leave before the end of the month if the results in the forthcoming matches against Derby County, West Bromwich Albion and Coventry City do not suggest dramatic improvement.
He is due to celebrate his fifth anniversary as manager on December 12 but that date seems distant, especially given that the number of supporters calling for Bruce to resign is growing.
Once deemed to be unsackable, Bruce is now wondering how Birmingham have managed to fall from grace at such alarming speed.
Birmingham have gained just two points from their past five matches — the form of a team fighting against relegation rather than for promotion.
Bruce, ever the realist, had described his team’s performance against Norwich as "a horror show" but he would make no comment over the details of his telephone conversation with Gold and Sullivan.
In a bid to revive Birmingham's flagging fortunes, Bruce will recall Damien Johnson and Stephen Clemence, two of his most experienced players, for the match against Derby.
Defeat would not necessarily end Bruce's career with Birmingham but it would make the remaining matches this month distinctly uncomfortable.
Gary McSheffrey has certainly emphasised the gravity of the situation. The Birmingham winger has claimed it would be "a disaster" for Birmingham if Bruce is pushed out of the club.
McSheffrey insisted that the players should take the responsibility for the shabby display against Norwich.
"The manager always seems to get the stick and it is harsh at times," McSheffrey said. "The manager picks 11 players
and it’s down to the players to do the job and we didn’t do a job for him, the fans or the club on Tuesday. We take responsibility.
"In my opinion it is not fair for people to call for Steve Bruce to go. He bought me to the club and he has been nothing but good for me. If he was to go now, it would be a disaster.
"There are no excuses. It was a poor team and poor individual performance against Norwich and we’ve got to change it fast. That is the worst performance over the 90 minutes since I’ve been here — personally and as a team.
"We’ve gone five games without winning, including three defeats and it’s not good enough for a club of this stature. We have got to get it right soon. I’m speechless, really. I can’t put my finger on it. It looked like a lack of belief and confidence and we’ve got to change our mentality but this is a funny old league.
"We could go to Derby and win and it could all be turned around. The confidence could be back and we’ve just got to hope that is the case because, at the moment, it is not good enough.
"We can’t dwell on Tuesday. It was bad for the club but we’ve got to deal with it and get it right for Saturday."
Peter Grant, whose career as the Norwich manager began in fine style on Tuesday, has leapt to the defence of Bruce and branded criticism of the Birmingham boss as "a disgrace".
"I can’t feel sympathy for the fact we won the game, but what I can feel sympathy for is the fact that people are a disgrace when you think what Steve Bruce has done for this club, what he has built and achieved, and where it has been," Grant said.
"There is an expectation on him to do that all the time and sometimes that doesn’t happen. I was at West Ham when everyone expected us to be champions in this division and it just doesn’t happen that way.
"Your name doesn’t win you games of football. Steve has done fantastically well for Birmingham and I think that’s what people should remember. There is no doubt he has got the ability to manage, there is no doubt he has got top-quality coaches with him but Steve can’t play the game for them."
Grant says the Birmingham fans are contributing to the fear factor evident in the Blues players.
"The thing Steve has got to try to do is give the players confidence and it is difficult because the players are scared to make mistakes because the supporters are on their case if they make a mistake," he said.