Freddie Sears' strike proved only a consolation as Colchester United bowed out of this season's FA Cup at the third round stage following a 3-1 defeat at Championship club Cardiff City.

The U's gave a good account of themselves at the Cardiff City Stadium but their hosts proved too hot to handle in front of goal, to knock Tony Humes' side out of the competition.

Colchester started brightly and looked organised and comfortable in possession in the opening half hour.

Sears’ ninth-minute free-kick from 20 yards flew straight into Simon Moore’s arms but soon after at the other end, U’s keeper Sam Walker dived to his right to push away Joe Ralls’ long-range strike.

Cardiff’s players seemed to be affected by the strange atmosphere, which made the game feel more like a friendly than a third-round tie.

And Colchester almost capitalised on the situation when Kaspars Gorkss’ header from David Fox’s corner sailed just wide of the near post.

But after Peter Whittingham’s curling corner rattled the top of the bar before going off for a goal-kick, Cardiff struck the game’s opening goal 11 minutes before half-time.

After Tom Eastman had headed away Whittingham’s corner, Joe Ralls’ well-hit shot from 25 yards struck both Gorkss and Cole Kpekawa before sailing past the wrong-footed Walker and in.

Colchester responded well to the setback and were almost level six minutes later when Cardiff goalkeeper Simon Moore made a fine save to push away Gavin Massey’s low effort, after Freddie Sears had intelligently dummied Sammie Szmodics’ low pass.

And although they went in at half-time trailing, Tony Humes’ side were still in the tie.

But the second half was only six minutes old when Kadeem Harris spectacularly hooked in Cardiff’s second from six yards after Ben Turner had helped on a Whittingham corner.

And Kenwyne Jones added a third for Cardiff on the hour, nodding in from another Whittingham set-piece barely a minute after coming on as a substitute for Federico Macheda.

Tom Lapslie was sent on for his senior debut for Colchester and Sanchez Watt was also introduced to the action, as the visitors somehow tried to find a way back into the tie.

They got one with 16 minutes to go when Sears fired in his 13th goal of the season after exchanging passes with Watt and drilling home a shot which Moore could not keep out.

Colchester enjoyed plenty of possession in the Cardiff half after that and substitute Dion Sembie-Ferris twice came close to pulling a goal back, after coming on for his senior debut.

But the U's could not muster a second and bowed out of the cup, in front of a crowd of 4,194, the lowest-ever attendance at the Cardiff City Stadium.

For full coverage of the U’s FA Cup tie at Cardiff City, including a full report, pictures, analysis and reaction, see Monday’s Daily Gazette.