WHEN a grinning Jamie Cureton left the Carrow Road pitch clutching the match ball, having just claimed a hat-trick against his former club, the poignancy of the moment could hardly have been starker.

His three goals for Norwich City that wintry afternoon in late March effectively killed off any lingering hopes Colchester United had of remaining a Coca-Cola Championship club.

More significantly though, Cureton's telling contribution in the Canaries' 5-1 victory - and their season in general - said much about why the U's lifespan in English football's second tier was restricted to two years.

Only a few months earlier, Colchester had regularly profited from Cureton's input.

But their player-of-the-year's decision to leave, along with a number of other key components of the U's team which had performed so admirably to achieve a top-ten finish in their first Championship season, ultimately paved the way for disappointment.

It would be easy to attribute Colchester's problems this season solely to the exodus of important players last summer.

And while the disintegration of his playing squad weeks before the campaign kicked-off was probably the most telling element in the U's demise, there were several other contributory factors.

To say poor defending has been one of Colchester's biggest downfalls this season would be something of an understatement.

The 86 league goals they have conceded is the worst record in all four divisions, though Derby County - who have conceded one fewer goal in the Premier League - still have one game to play.

But Colchester's inability to stop the opposition from scoring has arguably been as much due to injuries as it has mistakes.

Each of the seven central defenders used by Williams this season has found himself on physiotherapist Tony Flynn's couch.

And the fact that on-loan duo Matt Heath and Bela Balogh started their first game together in the U's final game of the season at Scunthorpe United said it all.

It is not only in defence that Colchester have suffered from absenteeism.

Experienced trio Teddy Sheringham, Kevin Watson and Aidan Davison have all been restricted to the sidelines for long periods, while the guile of winger Mark Yeates, in such impressive form in the early part of the season, was badly missed.

But Williams has never hidden behind the excuse of injuries as an explanation for his side's predicament.

The departure of his assistant Micky Adams following the humiliating home defeat against Peterborough United led to the arrival of Kit Symons as number two, closely followed by new recruits Dean Hammond, Chris Coyne, Phil Ifil and Scott Vernon.

But they could do little to reverse the slide that had been set in motion by a damaging run of one win in 14 matches, in the final weeks of 2007.

Though the season has ended in relegation, there have been some bright spots for the U's, such as Kevin Lisbie's goalscoring exploits, Johnnie Jackson's record of playing every second of every game and the continued emergence of Medy Elito.

Williams and Colchester will take those positives with them to their new home at the Community Stadium, where they will be hoping to recapture that winning feeling as quickly as possible in their new surroundings.