Steve Bruce is beginning to find himself in a similarly sticky situation after a worrying 4-1 loss at an impressive Sheffield United left Aston Villa with the joint second-worst defensive record in the Championship.
Derby County, in contrast, has surged to fourth after a second victory against Hull City in less than a week, with Florian Jozefzoon the hero in a late 2-1 triumph at KCOM Stadium.
The Rams are joined in the top six by Brentford, which edged Nottingham Forest by the same scoreline for its first win in three matches.
An impressive 2-0 winner over Huddersfield Town in midweek EFL Cup action, Stoke was given a sobering reminder of reality with a third loss of the season at the Hawthorns.
On-loan Newcastle United striker Gayle netted either side of half-time for the Baggies, who have now won six of their past seven competitive games.
Benik Afobe hit the bar with a 71st-minute penalty that could have made things interesting as Stoke's only consolation came in the shape of an Erik Pieters rocket deep into stoppage-time.
Winless in four competitive games before this match, Villa's concerns only deepened throughout a dreadful first half at Bramall Lane.
Jack O'Connell, Mark Duffy and Oliver Norwood all scored as the hosts ran riot in the opening 45 minutes, before Billy Sharp netted his third league goal soon after the interval.
Anwar El Ghazi, signed on loan from Lille, did add some respectability to the scoreline with his maiden Villa goal after the hour, but manager Bruce has questions to answer after another busy transfer window.
Derby appears to be adapting well to Frank Lampard's methods with the Pride Park side having now taken maximum points from its past three league fixtures.
Though not as straightforward as the 4-0 victory recorded when these teams met in the EFL Cup, the Rams did enough to consign Hull to back-to-back home defeats.
It seemed as though the Nigel Adkins' side would secure a much-needed point when Todd Kane cancelled out Martyn Waghorn's early penalty, but winger Jozefzoon — on target in midweek — popped up to snatch all three points in the 88th minute, keeping Derby level on points with fourth-placed Sheffield.