COLCHESTER United's disappointing festive period continued this afternoon when they lost 2-0 at Crawley Town.

Luke Gambin's brace settled a tight encounter at Broadfield Stadium in favour of the hosts, who played the final hour with a numerical disadvantage after their centre-back Joe McNerney was sent off for a foul on Harry Pell.

Frankie Kent was dismissed in stoppage-time after picking up a second booking, to complete a miserable afternoon for the U's.

The defeat continued Colchester's disappointing recent form, which has seen them claim just one point from a possible nine in their last three games.

Colchester head coach John McGreal made two changes to his side for their game at Crawley.

Pell was recalled in midfield while defender Tom Eastman also returned, as the U’s switched to a 3-4-1-2 formation.

Frank Nouble started in a more advanced position for the visitors, alongside Luke Norris in attack.

Brandon Comley and Brennan Dickenson both dropped to the bench.

The contest started at a fast pace, with plenty in the way of commitment and endeavour from both sides early on.

David Sesay's low effort from a tight angle flashed just wide for the hosts but Colchester grew into the game and Sammie Szmodics’ header straight at keeper Glenn Morris after Crawley had failed to sufficiently clear from Ryan Jackson’s long throw.

And Norris’s deflected shot then went straight at Morris after Pell had won the ball well for the U's midway inside the Crawley half.

Colchester came even closer to scoring after 25 minutes when Norris hit the bar with a header from close range, after Jackson had delivered a cross into the box.

It was the successive game that the U’s had hit the woodwork but the visitors were given a boost on the half hour when Crawley were reduced to ten men.

The hosts’ centre-back McNerney was shown a straight red card following a late challenge on Pell in midfield, leaving the Reds to play with a man short for the final hour of the game.

Crawley switched to 4-4-1 following McNerney's dismssal and although Pell’s long-range shot flew straight at Morris just before half-time, the sides went in level at the break.

Colchester made a change at the interval, sending on Courtney Senior for their injured skipper Luke Prosser and reverting to four at the back.

Nouble's glancing header from Jackson's cross flashed just wide of the far post in the opening minutes of the second half after a good build-up by the U's, who sent on Dickenson for Vincent-Young just before the hour mark.

But Colchester fell behind on the hour mark when Gambin picked up the ball on the left edge of the area before letting fly with a rasping shot that flew past Rene Gilmartin and into his far post.

It was a blow for the U's against their ten-man opponents and came rather against the run of play, forcing the visitors to chase the game.

The goal prompted boss McGreal to make his third and final change of the game soon after, sending on Mikael Mandron for Tom Lapslie in a bid to find an equaliser.

Nouble curled a shot just wide of the far upright from the edge of the area with 12 minutes remaining, as Colchester pushed hard for a goal.

But Kent picked up a second caution in stoppage-time after fouling Dominic Poleon, on the edge of the area.

And after the resultant free-kick had been touched to him, Gambin emphatically fired low past Gilmartin to complete a miserable first game of 2019 for the U's.