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By Josh Reich
Dec 14 (Reuters) - West Bromwich Albion moved swiftly to sack manager Steve Clarke on Saturday following the Midlands club's latest defeat away to Cardiff City after a dreadful run in the Premier league.
"West Bromwich Albion have this evening relieved head coach Steve Clarke of his duties and placed him on gardening leave with immediate effect," the club said in a statement.
"This was the unanimous decision of the Football Club's Board of Directors following a disappointing performance throughout 2013."
West Brom, who sit two points above the relegation zone, have won only once in their last 10 league matches since beating Manchester United at Old Trafford in late September.
They surprised many by finishing eighth last term in Clarke's first season in charge, but have won only seven of 34 league matches in 2013 and picked up 31 points in total.
"This club's track record proves we do not take such decisions lightly, having only enforced a change in this position three times in approximately 14 years," West Brom's sporting and technical director Richard Garlick said.
"But with key games coming thick and fast, we felt it was important we acted now to give the club the best possible chance of a successful outcome this season," he added in the statement on the club's official website (www.wba.co.uk).
The final straw was Saturday's 1-0 defeat at Cardiff City, West Brom's fourth league reverse in a row, after which Clarke, 50, said there was no "magic formula" for success.
"There is no magic wand," he told reporters. "It's difficult for the players and all we can do is keep trying as hard as we can to break the run as quickly as possible."
The West Brom job, as a replacement for England-bound Roy Hodgson, was Clarke's first as a manager after he worked as assistant coach at Chelsea, West Ham United and Liverpool.
His appointment was seen as a bold one but he defied the critics during his first season in charge, helped by Romelu Lukaku's 17 league goals on-loan from Chelsea.
West Brom have failed to hit similar heights without the Belgium striker this term and currently sit in 16th spot.
Clarke's assistant Kevin Keen has also been placed on gardening leave, with joint assistant head coach Keith Downing taking control of the team until a new manager is in place.
Former Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo, who steered the London side to the Champions League crown before being sacked the following season, is the clear favourite to take over with bookmakers William Hill ahead of Martin Jol and Ian Holloway.
Clarke is the fourth manager to leave a Premier League club this season after Paolo Di Canio at Sunderland, Jol, who was sacked by Fulham at the start of the month, and Holloway who left Crystal Palace by mutual consent in October.
West Brom's next match is at home to Hull City next weekend, followed by visits to Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United. (Writing by Josh Reich in London, Additional reporting by Kieran Barry in Cardiff; Editing by Ken Ferris)