COLCHESTER United underlined their promotion credentials with a scintillating 3-0 victory against fellow high-fliers Plymouth Argyle.

The U’s were at their ruthless best in this afternoon’s League Two clash at the JobServe Community Stadium and settled the contest in the opening 45 minutes.

Ben Stevenson swept them into a 14th-minute lead before two goals in quick succession from Theo Robinson.

It was a fairytale outcome, given their high-flying opposition, and, incredibly, it could have been more.

Brandon Comley hit the bar while Callum Harriott was denied by the near-post, after seeing a low drive pushed onto the woodwork by keeper Alex Palmer.

It was an extraordinary result and the best possible response to last week’s defeat at Cambridge United.

That setback ended a 16-match unbeaten league run but far from sulking or stalling, the U’s romped back to winning ways with a performance that wowed most of the 4,768 crowd.

It would have been impressive against anyone but the way they dismantled a top team was impressive in the extreme.

Plymouth had won five of their previous six matches and seven of their last nine. Their only defeat in the latter sequence was against Swindon Town on New Year’s Day.

They had also won their previous four away matches – but, on the day, they were no match for the U’s.

Clinical Colchester were outstanding in the first half.

Some of their attacking play was exhilarating – a real joy to watch - and they showed no mercy with three goals in an absorbing opening period.

The sides traded chances in the early stages but it was Colchester who drew first blood, after Harriott’s cut-back was stroked into the net by Stevenson.

Both players had been recalled to the starting line-up, along with Robinson, with Courtney Senior, Kwame Poku and Luke Norris dropping to the bench. Three very astute changes by head coach John McGreal.

The U’s second followed on the half-hour mark.

Frank Nouble delivered a cross and Robinson, unmarked and stationed on the six-yard line, had the relatively simple task of nodding beyond Palmer.

Two become three six minutes later.

Harry Pell appeared to nick the ball off a defender and it fell invitingly for Robinson, who found himself in on goal and coolly, confidently slotted beyond the Pilgrims keeper.

It was an exhilarating show from Colchester, who also went agonisingly close through Comley and Harriott.

The former tried his luck with a rising, driven shot from 25 yards that clipped the top of the Pilgrims’ bar.

Harriott then made space for himself on the right but his low, drilled effort was pushed onto the base of the post by Palmer.

The big question at the break was whether the U’s could continue playing with the same pace, intensity and attacking intent or would Plymouth – with two substitutes on for the start of the second half - throw themselves a lifeline?

Despite the cushion between the teams, a goal for the visitors could have made things edgy.

Thankfully for the hosts, it was they who continued to press and Robinson went within a whisker of bringing up his hat-trick, stroking a low effort just wide of the right-hand post with Palmer beaten.

Colchester’s attacking threat faded a little after that but there weren’t any scares at the other end, apart from a couple of comfortable saves from Dean Gerken.

They were always in control and an important, eye-catching fixture had been won in the most encouraging, impressive fashion.