COLCHESTER United interim head coach Hayden Mullins admitted his embattled players were left hurting following their 5-2 defeat at Oldham Athletic.

The U’s League Two relegation fears worsened at Boundary Park, as Davis Keillor-Dunn’s late brace sealed the visitors’ fate after a spirited second-half fightback thanks to goals from Frank Nouble and Tom Eastman had given them brief hope at 3-2.

Goals from Conor McAleny, Alfie McCalmont and Carl Piergianni had earlier left Colchester with it all to do as Oldham raced into a three-goal lead and it ultimately proved too much for the U’s, who are five points above the relegation zone with five games remaining.

The U's Essex rivals Southend United can now cut the gap on their neighbours to two points with a win over Crawley Town, this afternoon.

Mullins said: “The boys are hurting and it was a tough game tonight but one that we’re going to carry into the next game.

“The boys care so much and we put so much into this game to try and get the result.

“When you come out with a negative one, it’s the boys who take it quite tough but we’ve got to take it on the chin and move onto the next game."

Colchester went hunting for an equaliser after fighting back in the second half and felt they should have had a penalty when left-back Ryan Clampin appeared to be fouled in the box by goalkeeper Laurie Walker, only for referee Martin Coy to allow play to continue.

“We went down to two set plays and at half-time, we had a chat with them and the boys knew they needed to have a response,” said Mullins.

“In the second half, we did that and we were inches away from equalising and I think that’s where the game hinged for us.

“We could have had a penalty and I think the referee allowed him (Ryan Clampin) to play on the notion that if they didn’t score, he would bring it back and give a penalty but for some reason he didn’t.

“The play only lasted for a couple of seconds after the initial two fouls and why he didn’t bring it back and give a penalty, I don’t know.

“The second half was a real positive and they showed all of the heart and desire and played some attractive football.

“We went forward and we were a threat and created a number of chances.

“We should have got back in the game but we got hit twice on the counter attack.

“We were trying to get the equaliser and we lost the fourth goal and the fifth goal was just us switching off in the box.

“I think the boys have got to take great heart from the second-half display.”