Kyel Reid's foolish red card causes Colchester collapse
Playoff spot looks beyond United's reach
Sky Bet League Two
Colchester 1 Cheltenham 4
Guthrie 40 Odelusi 57, Atangana 70
Sellars 79, Eisa 83
Colchester could have reached as high as third in Sky Bet League Two with a win over Cheltenham but a second-half collapse with ten men suggests there is still much work to be done before they can be considered among the promotion candidates in a tight division.
Although the league table suggested otherwise, the pre-match betting predicted there would be little between the sides and that proved to be the case in a tight opening half, brought to life by a thunderbolt strike from returning Colchester forward Kurtis Guthrie on 40 minutes.
At that stage there was little to suggest United's excellent run - they had lost once in 13 and the single defeat was a last-minute loss at second-placed Notts County - was about to end in spectacular fashion but minutes later Kyel Reid was foolishly sent off for violent conduct following a clash with Joe Morrell and Colchester fell to pieces.
The tired old cliche that it's more difficult to play against ten men was shown to be as idiotic as it sounds as Cheltenham ran riot and Reid was rightly slammed by manager John McGreal.
Cheltenham scored four second-half goals and only a couple of smart stops from Sam Walker saved Colchester from further embarrassment. Guthrie's late missed sitter was the only second-half attack of note from United's ten men.
Colchester may be better judged on their performance with 11 men but even that probably was not enough to suggest they are worth a playoff spot in an ultra-competitive section, although star man Sammie Szmodics was only on the bench so it is difficult to draw firm conclusions.
Szmodics' absence (down to fatigue according to McGreal) will only increase the speculation regarding his future after a number of teams were linked with the 22-year-old, who had scored five times in six matches prior to being rested.
A partnership of Guthrie, who is only just back from a long-term injury, and Szmodics could be a whole different ball game for United but on this evidence there was not a great deal of fluency in their 4-4-2 formation and a lack of creativity in central midfield.
Centre-backs Frankie Kent and Tom Eastman were solid enough when it was 11 v 11 but Reid's dismissal combined with an injury to left-back Kane Vincent-Young saw Colchester line up with a 3-4-2 shape in the second half which failed to keep the visitors at bay.
Colchester switched to a 4-3-2 in an attempt to stem the tide but United were beat long before the full-time whistle.
There were some positives for McGreal as Guthrie completed a match for the first time since last February, while captain Luke Prosser and 2016-17 player of the year Brennan Dickenson are soon to return from long-term injuries, but other sides in this division would appear to have more obvious promotion credentials.
Recent teams in focus
Cheltenham are one of the more interesting sides in the league as their shot stats are above average for the division and boss Gary Johnson claimed afterwards his side are second in the chances-created table.
Despite those impressive statistics, the Robins started the day in 17th place, which looks false. They did not quite get going as an attacking force in the first half but still looked at least the equals of Colchester before taking full advantage against ten men.
Former Colchester forward Sanmi Odelusi equalised following a goalmouth scramble and nearly added a second, while marauding right-back Carl Winchester could also have scored and Morrell's effort was tipped over by Walker.
Nigel Atangana, Jerrell Sellars and Mohamed Eisa, whose smart movement suggested he could perform at a higher level, eventually found ways past the busy home keeper.
No team in the bottom half have scored more goals in League Two but an early lapse in concentration from a set-piece so nearly allowed Kent a cheap opener and those basic defensive errors have apparently dogged Town for much of the campaign.
Cheltenham's three away clean sheets have come at lowly trio Barnet, Yeovil and Chesterfield but they have notched in their last 11 away matches which puts them down as bankers for both-teams-to-score wagers on the road.
There is unlikely to be much between them and Colchester come the end of the season.
Teams: Colchester 4-4-2: Walker; Jackson, Eastman, Kent, Vincent-Young (Kpekawa 46); Wright, Comley (Loft 68), Lapslie, Reid; Guthrie, Mandron (Hanlan 74).
Cheltenham 4-4-2: Flinders; Winchester, Grimes, Onariase, Moore; Dawson, Atangana, Morrell, Sellars (Storer 89); Wright (Odeluisi 46), Eisa (Lloyd 89).
Follow us on Twitter @racingpostsport
Like us on Facebook RacingPostSport