CREWE ALEXANDRA 2 COLCHESTER UNITED 0 League Two Colchester United’s away form failed to improve on a damp and chilly day in the north west as they lost for a ninth time on their League Two travels.
While their home record has been impressive, the U’s have struggled to turn performances into points away from the Weston Homes Community Stadium this year and that was the case at Crewe.
The U’s looked by far the more adventurous side in the second half as they kept their hosts pinned back for much of the 45 minutes.
However, the goal just wouldn’t come for them and the real damage had been done in the first half by Chris Dagnall’s 26th minute headed effort that had put the Railwaymen ahead.
The game was wrapped up late on by a second goal from the same player as Colchester were left licking their wounds on the bus home once again.
There was also added torment as they lost Sammie Szmodics early on to what looked like a recurrence of an ankle injury and the sight of him being stretchered down the touchline was one no U’s fans wanted to see.
The fact that the game went ahead at all was in the balance early on as heavy rain in the north east left the Gresty Road pitch under water.
However, much work by the groundstaff and two pitch inspections saw referee Graham Horwood happy to let it go ahead – albeit with a delayed kick-off by 15 minutes.
Both sides stuck with tried and tested formulas after they had enjoyed victories in their respective midweek games, with hosts Crewe not changing from the team that had won 3-0 at Crawley.
The U’s, meanwhile, went with the same starting line-up to the one that had beaten Mansfield 2-0 in mid-week as Huddersfield loanee Rekeil Pyke was handed his second start for the club.
Colchester had made a great start to that previous midweek game and forged a two-goal lead in the opening 25 minutes but it was the hosts who shaded the opening exchanges this time.
A second-minute effort from Jordan Bowery had Sam Walker scrambling to his right to make the save and the U’s keeper had to be alert to hold a Ben Nugent header from the ensuing corner.
However, the Colchester defence held firm and the game settled down with neither side really getting too great an advantage.
There was a blow for the visitors in the ninth minute, though, when Szmodics looked to injury the ankle he had surgery on in January and had only just returned to action from.
He appeared to fall awkwardly in a challenge on the halfway line and after receiving treatment, was taken away on a stretcher to be replaced by Tarique Fosu.
Colchester looked to regroup after the setback, but the best of the slim pickings in goal chances stayed with the hosts and they found themselves ahead in the 26th minute.
Brennan Dickenson committed a foul in a dangerous area as he lost his footing on the boggy surface while going for a challenge and Crewe took advantage from the ensuing free-kick.
The ball was curled low into the area and Dagnall stooped to reach and turn a header past Walker to put the Railwaymen into the lead.
Stung by falling behind, Colchester looked to up their tempo and they were inches away from levelling on the half-hour mark.
A lovely ball forward by Tom Lapslie released Fosu as he broke the home off-side trap and he acrobatically fired off a shot on the turn that flew just wide of the home goal.
It was the closest that the visitors would come in the opening 45 minutes, though, as a largely scrappy first half ended with them trailing by a single goal.
Colchester looked to make a quicker start after the interval and they did press more, but chances were hard to come by and the U’s looked most dangerous on the break.
They had a spell with some decent pressing around the hour mark when Fosu first shot over after being played in by Sean Murray.
There was then a great cross by Briggs from the left on to the head of Pyke, whose header was saved well by the feet of Garratt and the Crewe keeper was then in the right place to deal with a glanced header from Chris Porter.
It allowed Colchester to build a level of dominance that they had been unable to manage in the first half, but the elusive goal just wouldn’t come.
Boss John McGreal brought on Macauley Bonne up front in an effort to find the breakthrough but although they kept the lion’s share of the possession, a goal just wouldn’t come.
The hosts, meanwhile, were a clear danger on the break and from one of these in the 84th minute, Dagnall turned in a low cross to make the points safe.
There were a couple of late scares as Garratt made superb saves to deny Dickenson and Bonne in the closing minutes, but the U’s were unable to deny the home keeper of his clean sheet as it ended 2-0 to Crewe.
Colchester United: Sam Walker, Matt Briggs, Tom Lapslie, Drey Wright (Richard Brindley 76), Chris Porter, Sammie Szmodics (Tarique Fosu 13), Brennan Dickenson, George Elokobi, Sean Murray, Rekeil Pyke (Macauley Bonne 69), Cameron James.
Subs not used: Kane Vincent-Young, Dillon Barnes, Lewis Kinsella, Charley Edge.
Crewe Alexandra: Ben Garratt, Oliver Turton, George Ray, Ben Nugent, James Jones, Chris Dagnall, George Cooper (Ryan Wintle 76), Zoumana Bakayogo (Perry Ng 59), Jordan Bowery, Billy Bingham, Callum Cooke.
Subs not used: Andrew Dauber, Alex Kiwomya, Callum Ainley, Owen Dale, Oliver Finney.
Referee: Graham Horwood (Bedfordshire).