Curbishley in the wings as Pearce feels heat at City

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John Wardle, the Manchester City chairman, issued a remarkable condemnation of the club's playing staff last night when he described their latest away defeat as embarrassing and unacceptable. His words were not so much a vote of confidence in Stuart Pearce as a public declaration of despair, but the warning signs will not have been lost on the beleaguered City manager at a time when Alan Curbishley is preparing to make his Premiership return.

Curbishley's deal to stay out of football, agreed with Charlton when he ended his 15-year tenure at The Valley last season, expires in eight days time. Under the terms of that arrangement Charlton can claim compensation from any club that appoints Curbishley as manager before 1 November but with the cut-off point fast approaching, the 48-year-old has made his intentions clear. "When I left Charlton I said I needed a break from football and I feel I have had that now," Curbishley announced on television this weekend. "Now I am just waiting to see what happens."

There is no suggestion the former Charlton manager has advertised himself for Pearce's job, and his availability may carry equal resonance for Glenn Roeder and Alan Pardew as they also come under pressure following under-whelming starts at the Uniteds of Newcastle and West Ham respectively. But while all three Premiership managers currently retain the support of their employers, the City hierarchy yesterday became the first to go public with their discontent and demands for immediate improvement.

Wardle was compelled to comment in the wake of his club's embarrassing 4-0 defeat at Wigan on Saturday, an offering that proved too little even for a support that revels in its masochistic nature as they turned against Pearce's team with chants of, "You're not fit to wear the shirt."

In fairness to the City manager he had 11 senior players missing through injury and suspension at the JJB Stadium and was forced to give two youngsters their full debuts, right-back Michael Mills and midfielder Michael Johnson. While the chairman's criticism reflected that predicament - his ire directed at more established players such as Bernado Corradi, Georgios Samaras and captain Richard Dunne - the timing of the attack is significant given that Pearce is believed to have been given five Premiership games to secure his position following the Carling Cup second-round exit at Chesterfield last month. Wigan represented game four in that sequence and Wardle's anger was clear.

"I was at the game and could fully understand the reaction of our supporters who were there. I can also appreciate why some of them left early and I shared their anger," the chairman told the club's official website. "I want the players to take a long look at themselves this week. They must understand that the performance was unacceptable.

"We were totally embarrassed by what happened on the pitch. This football club is not used to this type of performance and will not accept it. We are determined to put this right."

Wardle defended the financial support given to Pearce and promised funds for the January transfer window. Though there were mitigating circumstances for Pearce at Wigan and he has delivered much-needed stability to City during his 18 months at the helm there is growing unrest among the club's support and mounting opposition to his tactics and purchases.

The strike-force of Corradi and £6m Greek international Samaras came in for fierce criticism after Saturday's defeat. Both are Pearce signings, while other summer arrivals such as Ousmane Dabo and Hatem Trabelsi have yet to make an impact.

City and their manager have a week to digest their chairman's comments before facing Middlesbrough at home next Monday, a contest that could witness Ben Thatcher's return from a two-month suspension for felling the Portsmouth midfielder Pedro Mendes with a flailing elbow.

"There is no hiding place for us as a group," said Pearce, who added that the "the bottom line is that the players and myself have to match the passion of the supporters".

City's slide: One win in seven

Reading 1 Man City 0 (11 Sept, Premiership)

Blackburn 4 Man City 2 (17 Sept, Premiership)

Chesterfield 2 Man City 1 (20 Sept, League Cup)

Man City 2 West Ham 0 (23 Sept, Premiership)

Everton 1 Man City 1 (30 Sept, Premiership)

Man City 0 Sheff Utd 0 (14 Oct, Premiership)

Wigan 4 Man City 0 (21 Oct, Premiership)