Sterling has now scored 19 Premier League goals this season, his outright best return in the competition in a single campaign

Watford failed to ease their relegation fears in the wake of Nigel Pearson’s surprise sacking as they were hammered by a Raheem Sterling-inspired Manchester City.

Defeat means the Hornets’ battle to stay up will go to the final day of the season on Sunday, when they visit Arsenal.

Pearson became the Hornets’ third managerial casualty of the campaign on Monday, leaving Under-23 coach Hayden Mullins and his assistant Graham Stack in charge for their final two games.

And they could hardly have had a tougher first assignment than against City, who completed the double over them with this win, at an aggregate score of 12-0 – a joint Premier League record for one team against another in a single season.

Sterling took the game away from the home side before half-time, firing in a rising shot to open the scoring before doubling the advantage by following up his own saved penalty – awarded for a foul on him by Will Hughes.

Phil Foden added a third after Ben Foster had parried a Sterling shot before Aymeric Laporte nodded in from Kevin de Bruyne’s free-kick.

City’s fourth straight league win could have been even more emphatic but Gabriel Jesus had an injury-time header ruled out for offside.

This could well be important to Watford, with goal difference potentially a crucial deciding factor going into the weekend.

The defeat leaves the Hornets 17th, three points above Aston Villa and Bournemouth – all three clubs have the same goal difference of -27.

A Villa victory over Arsenal later on Tuesday will mean the Hornets start Sunday in the bottom three, with their fate no longer in their own hands.