Colchester United got back to winning ways with a hard-fought victory over Crawley Town.

Goals from Sammie Szmodics, Frank Nouble and Luke Norris secured the U's all three points at the JobServe Community Stadium, despite Filipe Morais's first-half penalty.

Colchester head coach John McGreal made one change to his starting line-up against Crawley.

Goalkeeper Rene Gilmartin was handed his first-ever league start for the U’s in place of Dillon Barnes, who surprisingly dropped to the bench.

It was the 31-year-old’s first league appearance since January, 2013 when he played for Plymouth Argyle against Accrington Stanley.

Colchester started well and almost scored in the fifth minute when Luke Norris's far post header saved low down by keeper Glenn Morris after Frank Nouble had crossed from the left, following Harry Pell’s surging run from deep inside his own half.

A few minutes later, Pell’s goalbound effort was blocked near his own goal-line by Lewis Young after Courtney Senior had done well to set the chance up.

Pell’s low cross-shot was saved by Morris after Senior had got down the right and crossed be4fore Colchester made the breakthrough in the 27th minute.

Sammie Szmodics converted at the far post, after Norris had helped on a low cross by Senior, who had cut out a Crawley free-kick inside his own half.

Crawley almost made an immediate response when their leading scorer Ollie Palmer saw his header saved at point-blank range by Gilmartin.

But Colchester threatened a second after that, with Tom Eastman’s low shot from a tight angle saved at his near post by Morris, who also denied Norris’s low shot soon after.

However, Colchester were pegged back five minutes before the break when referee Trevor Kettle award the visitors a penalty.

U’s skipper Luke Prosser was adjudged to have fouled Luke Gambin just inside the area and after consulting his assistant, Kettle pointed to the spot.

Filipe Morais stroked home the resultant penalty and the U’s went in at the break seething that the spot-kick had been given.

But Colchester started the second half positively and were back ahead, just before the hour.

After Ryan Jackson had intelligently helped the ball on just inside the Crawley half, Norris advanced towards the area and bided his time before picking out Nouble who netted with a superb first-time shot.

But Crawley began to grow in confidence after that, prompting boss McGreal to send on defender Frankie Kent for winger Senior and switch to three at the back, in an attempt to nullify the visitors’ growing threat.

Prosser made a fine goal-line clearance to deny Palmer's header as Crawley looked to level things up and put the home defence under pressure.

With eight minutes remaining, Szmodics’ shot was brilliantly saved by Morris after Kent and Nouble had done well in the air to set him up.

Szmodics had a chance to seal it with two minutes to go when his shot flashed inches wide of the far post after Jackson and Nouble had done well to set him up in space, following a U’s break.

But Norris got the goal he deserved for a fine performance when he scored Colchester's third in the 90th minute, finishing brilliantly from Szmodics' lay-off.

Crawley defender Bondz N'Gala was sent off in the final seconds for the visitors, as Colchester claimed three points.