Crawley Town 0 Colchester United 2
Reds suffered a dose of the Boxing Day blues as they slipped to their first home defeat since October.
Goals from Mikael Mandron and Sammie Szmodics in either half won it for the play-off chasing visitors. Reds had their moments but after winning three of their last five games it was undoubtedly a step backwards.
Harry Kewell sprang a surprise with his selection, making six changes to the side that had won at Accrington on Stanley.
There was a first League start for Kaby Djalo and recalls for Thomas Verhedyt, Moussa Sanoh, Billy Clifford and Jordan Roberts. Reds had to make an enforced alteration when keeper Glenn Morris hurt his back in the warm-up and Yusuf Mersin stepped in. Enzio Boldewijn, two-goal hero at Accrington, was sidelined by a hamstring injury.
Reds made the worst possible start when they fell behind after four minutes. Cedric Evina should have cleared Drey Wright’s cross but failed to do so and Mandron swept a right-foot shot past the helpless Mersin from six yards.
Reds eventually began to assert themselves after an uncertain start. Evina nearly atoned for his mistake when he forced keeper Sam Walker to push away his cross-shot and Roberts hit a free kick from 25 yards, awarded for a foul on Sanoh, over the bar.
Roberts had Crawley’s best chance in the 32nd minute when he expertly controlled Lewis Young’s pass only for Tom Eastman to get across and block his goalbound shot.
Kewell made a double change at the break with Mark Randall and Ibrahim Meite coming on for Sanoh and Verheydt but the home side’s task was made more difficult in the 58th minute when they went 2-0 down.
Brandon Comley’s through ball took a deflection off a defender and ran kindly into the path of Szmodics whose confident finish, as Mersin came out, was indicative of a player with seven goals in his last eight games.
Reds nearly responded straight away but Meite headed straight at Sam Walker from ten yards after Young had picked him out with a good cross - a bad miss by the young striker.
The hosts were committing more and more men forward in search of a breakthrough and leaving themselves open to the counter. From one such raid Wright picked out Szmodics but Josh Lelan got across to make a tremendous block.
Randall nearly profited when Walker dropped Young’s cross at his feet but the midfielder’s shot on the turn went the wrong side of the post – an incident which summed up Reds’ frustration in front of goal. Moments later a free kick was half-cleared to Payne whose superbly-struck volley from just outside the box flashed inches wide.
Mersin produced a good save at his near post to block Wright’s effort from an angle on the right by which time Josh Yorwerth had been pushed forward. But it was too no avail as Colchester completed the double over Crawley, who will be looking to bounce back on Saturday when Stevenage are the visitors for the final game of 2017.
eds: Mersin; Lelan, Connolly, Yorwerth; Evina, Djalo (Payne 62), Clifford, Sanoh (Randall 45), Young; Roberts, Verheydt (Meite 45). Unused subs: Bulman, Doherty, Lewis.
Attendance: 2154 (375)
Referee: Antony Coggins
Picture: Man of the match Jordan Roberts looks to get Crawley on the attack in the first half (Photo by James Boardman, Telephoto Images)