Madrid: In the space of a few short months, Villarreal's season of promise has been transformed into a battle for La Liga survival after their elimination from the King's Cup by third-tier opposition and the subsequent dismissal of their coach.

The "yellow submarine" sank to new depths on Wednesday when they were beaten 2-0 at home by Mirandes, losing the last-32 tie 3-1 on aggregate, prompting president Fernando Roig to sack coach Juan Carlos Garrido immediately after the final whistle.

In the league, Villarreal are hovering just above the relegation places after 16 rounds of a woeful campaign that also saw them beaten in all six of their Champions League Group A games, scoring just two goals and conceding 14 in the process.

As well as the departure of their best player, midfielder Santi Cazorla, to Malaga in the close season, Garrido had to deal with a spate of injuries to key players, including first-choice forwards Giuseppe Rossi and Nilmar.

However, there is also a sense of a club in decline, struggling to stay competitive in a league where Real Madrid and Barcelona, the world's richest clubs by income, take the lion's share of revenue from audiovisual rights.

"I understand (the sacking) because the team was a disaster and a disgrace and the way we were undone projected a dreadful image," Garrido, who stepped up from running junior teams to replace Manuel Pellegrini in 2009, told a news conference.

"I accept my dismissal because the coach is always the main culprit," he added.

"From the start, this has been a very difficult year and we paid for it over the whole season."

Garrido's abrupt departure came as something of a surprise and local media speculation about a possible successor had yet to gather pace on Thursday.

Former Spain coach Luis Aragones, former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez and former Sevilla, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur coach Juande Ramos were among names being touted.

Villarreal were languishing in the Spanish second division at the end of the 1990s and they only enjoyed their first taste of European football when they played in the 2002 Intertoto Cup.

Under Pellegrini, they made a name for themselves as a compact, well-organised and determined side and they reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup in their debut season in that competition in 2004.

In 2006, they made the last four of the Champions League, disposing of Inter Milan on the way before losing to eventual runners-up Arsenal after Argentine playmaker Riquelme had a late penalty saved.

But all of those highlights have become a dim and distant memory for a side with little left to play for this season other than a desperate fight to retain their top tier status.

(Agencies)