Lewis Hancock reports from the Weston Homes Community Stadium
City failed to come back from a sloppy first half as Colchester United ran out 3-2 winners at the Weston Homes Community Stadium.
Tom Lapslie gave the U’s an early lead from close range, before Macauley Bonne increased their advantage with a well-placed header and Chris Porter made it three on 26 minutes with a smart shot on the turn.
James Tavernier's long range effort and a bullet header from Aden Flint gave City hope, but they came up short.
Steve Cotterill made three alterations to the side that cruised to a comfortable victory over Peterborough United in midweek as Wade Elliott and Tavernier replaced Marlon Pack and Mark Little, while Jay Emmanuel-Thomas returned for Kieran Agard.
The manager declared Colchester were going to be difficult to beat and so it proved as the hosts were quick out of the blocks, taking City by surprise.
Possession was hard to come by for the visitors as Alex Gilbey and Lapslie allowed the U’s to get a foothold in the game – and it was the latter who opened the scoring after three minutes.
Elliott Hewitt collected the ball on the right and sent a looping cross towards Frank Fielding. Under pressure from Porter, the keeper fumbled and Lapslie caught City’s defence ball-watching to nod home.
The side in the relegation zone continued to cause the league leaders problems from the restart and it wasn’t long until they doubled their lead.
Former City loanee Matthew Briggs raced down the left before providing a perfect ball in for the lively Bonne to head into the bottom corner.
It took a further setback for City to make Colchester feel uneasy for the first time in the encounter.
Freeman brushed past Gilbey and Emmanuel-Thomas retrieved his pass 20 yards from goal but the forward dragged his effort well wide, summing up his side’s disappointing start.
City remained on the hunt for that elusive goal to get them back into the clash and it nearly came on the 20-minute mark.
A sweeping move from left to right found Tavernier on the touchline. The wing-back pushed the ball past Briggs and drilled in a low cross to a packed area. The onrushing Elliott greeted it with a finessed effort aimed for the bottom corner, but was denied by the foot of the post.
This seemingly reignited Colchester, and coinciding with City’s slack passing, they added another.
Hewitt delivery from deep fell to the feet of Porter and the big striker swiveled directing a fierce shot past Fielding at his near post.
Cotterill’s response was immediate as he introduced Little to the action for Luke Ayling, who had suffered a torrid half an hour against the pace of Massey. It saw City switch to a 4-4-2 formation.
But Colchester attack-minded style progressed going into half-time and a fourth looked the most likely outcome.
Sean Clohessy’s hopeful long ball fell to Bonne through on goal. The attacker teed up Porter to shoot but his deflected shot fell to Massey who was thwarted by Fielding from close range.
The break couldn’t come soon enough for a City side that looked out of sorts and Cotterill’s words at the interval appeared to give City the boost they needed.
A controlled passage of play with plenty of intensity led to a lifeline.
Tavernier broke down the right and looked up to see half-time substitute Agard lurking on the shoulder of Eastman. The former Newcastle man aimed for his team-mate but misguided his ball and it fortuitously looped over a bewildered Walker into the back of the net.
The City of old, one that has put many to the sword this campaign, were back and grabbed the encounter by the scruff of the neck with free-flowing and threatening football, and they would not have to wait long to reduce the deficit further.
Korey Smith demanded the ball from Fielding and turned to produce a delightful diagonal ball into the area, and the towering figure of Flint powered a header past the helpless Walker.
Rejuvenated on the pitch, and in full voice in the stands, City searched for the elusive equaliser and they thought it had come with 15 minutes left to play.
Flint was involved again as he flicked forward into the path of Aaron Wilbraham, who was quick to slot past man-of-the-match Walker but was denied by the offside flag.
City pressed for a goal to complete a remarkable turnaround, however a stern Colchester defence lay in wait, refuting the possibility.