Chelsea have sacked manager Luiz Felipe Scolari after falling behind in the English Premier League title race, the club announced on Monday. The Blues sit fourth in the table, seven points behind leaders Manchester United after being booed off the pitch by their own fans at Stamford Bridge following a goalless draw with top-flight new boys Hull on Saturday.

"Unfortunately, the results and performances of the team appeared to be deteriorating at a key time in the season," a Chelsea statement confirming Scolari's dismissal said. "In order to maintain a challenge for the trophies we are still competing for we felt the only option was to make the change now."

Scolari, the former FIFA World Cup™ winning coach of Brazil, was in his first season at the club owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, and he was sacked with immediate effect. Chelsea's statement added: "The search for a new manager had already started and we hope to have someone in place as soon as possible.

"Felipe has brought many positives to the club since he joined, and we all feel a sense of sadness that our relationship has ended so soon."

Assistant manager Ray Wilkins, a former Chelsea captain, will take charge of Chelsea on a temporary basis. It has been reported that Russia coach Guus Hiddink, linked with the Chelsea job last year, is now a candidate to take over. Reports also said Avram Grant, the man Scolari replaced in July, could be set for a return to the club although he has also been linked with the vacancy at Portsmouth, after Tony Adams was sacked earlier on Monday.

Some Chelsea fans during Saturday's match called for former player Gianfranco Zola, now in charge of London rivals West Ham, to replace Scolari. However, West Ham vice-chairman Ausgier Fridgeirsson told BBC Sport the club had had no contact from Chelsea regarding Zola, who replaced Alan Curbishley at Upton Park in September, or former Chelsea coach Steve Clarke, Zola's current assistant.

Scolari, who won the 2002 FIFA World Cup with Brazil, was manager of Portugal before he took over at Chelsea - his first job in European club management. Chelsea great John Hollins said that lack of experience of club football had ultimately counted against the 60-year-old.

"You can't knock him for what he's done internationally but club football is a different ball game," Hollins, who after playing for Chelsea managed the club for three years in the 1980s, remarked. "I feel he couldn't adapt to the every day thing (of club management). Internationally he's had time to look at a game and pick a team but (Chelsea) is instant," Hollins added.

Scolari is the seventh Premier League manager to either be sacked or quit this season.