Strictly Come Dancing head judge Shirley Ballas has defended her decision not to save Aston Merrygold and partner Janette Manrara from elimination of the competition.

The pair’s exit was a shock, with the former JLS star one of the early favourites to win the BBC dancing show.

[Read more: Aston and Janette shed tears on It Takes Two]

[Read more: Craig Revel Horwood brands Shirley Ballas the 'new villain']

Ballas has faced criticism after she opted to save Mollie King and partner AJ Pritchard but said Merrygold “shouldn’t have been in the bottom two” as she urged viewers to ensure they vote for their favourites.

Strictly Come Dancing 2017
(Guy Levy/BBC)

She told Strictly spin-off show It Takes Two: “It’s an awful decision to have to make to send anybody home but you have to judge on that particular dance right there in front of you. Not past performances, or future performances, but right there and then.”

The newest member of the judging panel said Merrygold’s position in the bottom two could have been avoided, adding: “Look at Ruth (Langsford) she got a four but she was saved, she didn’t go in the bottom two. So, they shouldn’t have been in the bottom two.”

Former X Factor winner Alexandra Burke also appeared on Wednesday’s It Takes Two and said she had been left “really shocked” after Merrygold’s exit.

“It was really hard because I didn’t expect that to happen for a second,” Burke said.

“I actually thought Aston was going to win the show … I’ve been friends with him for years.

“He’s amazing and everyone knows how close we are. They are both incredible together and Janette worked so hard with him, and we loved sharing our time together.”

Strictly airs Saturday night at 6.45pm.

[Strictly Come Dancing's biggest ever controversies]