Stuart Pearce is entering a critical month in his reign as manager of Manchester City after the club's latest embarrassment in the Carling Cup heightened the pressure on a man touted as an England candidate only seven months ago.
Despite Wednesday's second-round exit at Chesterfield extending his alarming recent record to 13 defeats in the past 16 games, Pearce retains the overwhelming support of his boardroom and, characteristically, has no intention of bowing to his increasing detractors among the club's support, many of whom are touting Alan Curbishley as his successor.
Following a similar reverse at the same stage of the competition at Doncaster last season and, more pertinently, only one League win in five this term, the former England captain is enduring his most troubled spell since replacing Kevin Keegan in March 2005. But Pearce will only be in danger of losing his job if he fails to oversee an upturn in results in City's next five Premiership games.
With the club heavily in debt, albeit with manageable repayments, it is Premiership survival rather than cup upsets that will influence the decision of the City chairman, John Wardle, and, as such, the impending games against West Ham, Everton, Sheffield United, Wigan and Middlesbrough are understood to be pivotal to Pearce's future.
It was against West Ham in the FA Cup last season that Pearce's fortunes began to unravel, when defeat not only ended hopes of a place in the quarter-finals but sent City's League campaign into freefall and talk of qualification for the Uefa Cup with it. City have won only two of 14 games since losing to the Hammers, who they face at Eastlands tomorrow.
"We sensed they were nervous and we took advantage," admitted Chesterfield's match-winner Derek Niven last night.