GRIMSBY Town fell to a second consecutive defeat as they were beaten by Colchester United.
The damage was done in the first half as two goals from Brennan Dickenson, either side of one scored by Kurtis Guthrie, gave them a 3-0 lead at the interval.
Town responded well after the restart as Craig Disley, on as a half-time substitute, reduced the deficit to two goals by scoring with his first touch.
The Mariners had a penalty claim turned down and they created other chances to put a further dent in their hosts’ advantage in a much-improved second-half performance.
Town eventually pulled another goal back through Omar Bogle in stoppage time but they could not complete the turnaround and were forced to return home empty-handed.
Boss Paul Hurst made two changes from the Grimsby team that unluckily lost to Wycombe Wanderers at the weekend, with Ashley Chambers and Omar Bogle starting in place of Sean McAllister and Scott Vernon.
James McKeown started in goal, with Ben Davies, Andrew Boyce, Josh Gowling and Danny Andrew making up the back four.
Tom Bolarinwa, Luke Summerfield, James Berrett and Chambers were the midfielders, with Bogle slotting in alongside Kayden Jackson in attack.
The Town substitutes were Shaun Pearson, Disley, Dominic Vose, Rhys Browne, Scott Vernon, Dan Jones and Andy Warrington.
The Mariners had the first chance of the game, although Berrett sent a near-post header from a corner into the side-netting as the cheers of the Town fans at the other end of the ground who thought their side had scored were silenced.
Soon afterwards, there was a warning for the visitors when centre-back Luke Prosser headed against the bar.
And the next time they went forward, Colchester took the lead, when a free header from Prosser was taken down and finished by DICKENSON.
It could have been 2-0 to the home side within two minutes but this time, after getting the ball from former Forest Green Rovers attacker Kurtis Guthrie, Dickenson hit the post with his shot.
Better moments from the Mariners came as the game approached the 20-minute mark, with Bogle working an opening but not seriously troubling home keeper Sam Walker, who collected the ball.
Then a cross from Davies found Andrew at the far post but his half-volley also failed to cause any problems.
Boyce was shown the first yellow card of the game for a foul on 21 minutes.
Jackson sent an effort across goal as Town continued to come back into the game but the hosts were also creating openings, with McKeown having to come out to collect a cross from Guthrie.
Boyce was spoken to by the referee after another foul but McKeown dealt with the resulting free kick, punching it clear for a throw-in.
But soon afterwards, the hosts doubled their lead as Boyce missed a challenge in the box and the ball broke for GUTHRIE, who found the net with 34 minutes on the clock.
It proved to be Boyce’s last involvement in the game, as he was replaced by Pearson straight after the goal.
But the home goals did not stop coming, as they made it 3-0 six minutes before the break. A possession move eventually led to the ball coming into the box for DICKENSON, who made no mistake with his shot to register his second goal of the game.
A Town corner on 43 minutes was eventually cleared by the hosts, who were looking to get to half-time with their commanding three-goal advantage intact.
Three added minutes were played at the end of the half and in the last of them, there was a chance for a fourth Colchester goal when they won a free kick but when the ball was played into the box, Chris Porter’s header went wide of the target.
It did not matter though, as they went into the dressing rooms at half-time 3-0 up and the Mariners were left with a mountain to climb after the interval.
Disley came on for Bolarinwa as Town made their second substitution before the restart, with Berrett moving across to the right as the club captain took up a central position.
A free kick from Davies was punched away but the Mariners were not to be denied as they pulled a goal back soon afterwards. A cross from Chambers was met by DISLEY and his first touch was a header which beat Walker for 3-1.
Town were now resurgent and they thought they had a penalty on 49 minutes when Bogle seemed to be brought down inside the box, although referee Kevin Johnson waved play on.
Jackson was the next to go close for the visitors after a good attacking move but the Barnsley loanee’s shot was saved by Walker at his near post.
Porter saw a shot saved by McKeown after Berrett did enough to put him off, before the resulting corner eventually led to a cross from Dickenson being pushed out by McKeown for another flag-kick.
Dickenson put a free kick wide as Colchester looked to restore their three-goal cushion, although Town had been brighter since the break.
The hosts sent Doug Loft on in place of Sammie Szmodics two minutes before the hour in what was their first change of the evening.
Summerfield conceded a corner three minutes later after putting too much power on a header but the mistake was not punished as the flag-kick was cleared.
At the other end, Town had an opportunity to reduce the deficit to one goal when a good move led to a cross for Jackson but he sent his header wide.
Craig Slater came on for Guthrie for Colchester with 22 minutes left to play, before a shot from Chambers five minutes later took a deflection and looped up into the keeper’s arms.
A foul by Pearson earned the defender a yellow card and from the resulting free kick, Dickenson’s dipping shot went narrowly over the bar.
At the other end, a ball from Jackson to Disley led to an effort from the midfielder being blocked for a corner, which eventually led to Chambers firing wide.
A corner at the other end led to McKeown being called into action after Andrew missed the initial ball and Drey Wright headed towards goal. The keeper did well though, making a good save to keep his side’s faint hopes of getting something from the game alive.
Chambers was replaced by Browne in Town’s final substitution, with Denny Johnstone coming on for Porter for the hosts at the same time.
Three added minutes were signalled to be played, with Colchester now looking to see out the remainder of the game.
Town had improved greatly in the second half but by then, the home side had already effectively secured the three points.
But the Mariners still had the time to get to within one goal of their hosts, as BOGLE struck in the last of the added minutes to make it 3-2.
Colchester went on to hit the post through Slater and although there were plenty of positives to take from Town’s second-half display, they were ultimately unable to complete what would have been a remarkable turnaround.