provided a hat-trick of assists as Exeter City extended their unbeaten run to nine game with a superb victory over in-form Colchester United.
The U’s went into the game in the final play-off place on the back of seven wins from their last nine games but were comfortably beaten by a City side who moved to within a point of the top seven.
City manager Paul Tisdale named an unchanged side from the team that picked up a 3-0 victory away at Grimsby Town last time out. That meant the Reuben Reid started up front, with an attacking midfield three of David Wheeler
, Ryan Harley
and Watkins just behind him.
Colchester were first to get a shot on target, following an impressive opening 10 minutes, as Brennan Dickenson curled a free-kick towards goal that Christy Pym
had to tip over the crossbar.
Lloyd James then sent a shot in from distance that forced Sam Walker into a difficult save. The rebound fell kindly for Jake Taylor but he was in an offside position as he headed just wide.
City broke the deadlock seven minutes later though as Troy Brown
sent a long ball up towards Ollie Watkins
. The 21-year-old showed expert technique to control the ball first time and then took on two defenders before sliding a pass into Reuben Reid. Reid then fired across the keeper for his 101st career goal and second in two games for City.
Man-of-the-match Brown then sent successive headers wide of the mark from Lloyd James corners. And City’s dominance continued into half-time as Jake Taylor fired a long range strike off-target and Watkins had an close range shot blocked having been gifted possession on the right side of the box.
The visitors started the second half brightly, but without severely testing City keeper Christy Pym
. First Craig Salter had a shot from distance that the Grecian shot stopper comfortably held and then, 11 minutes into the half, Brennan Dickenson sliced an effort into the away end when he was in yards of space on the left side of the box.
The best U’s chance then fell to captain Chris Porter as a bouncing cross from the left came to him eight yards out, but Craig Woodman
got a crucial block on his effort and the ball looped up over the crossbar.
City went into the last 15 minutes under pressure though and in need of a second goal that would kill the game off. That came 13 minutes from time as Watkins stole possession, ran into the box and placed a perfect pass into the path of Wheeler who then side-footed the ball into the bottom corner for his fourth goal in as many matches.
Watkins was then involved again in the final goal of the game as, on the counter-attack, he set up Liam McAlinden who nutmegged the keeper to make it 3-0.
Exeter City (4-2-3-1): Pym; Stacey, Brown, Moore-Taylor, Woodman; James, Taylor; Wheeler, Watkins (Simpson, 90), Harley (Tillson, 90); Reid (McAlinden, 72). Subs: Olejnik, Oakley, Croll, Sweeney.
Colchester United (3-4-1-2): Eastman, Lapsie, Elokobi; Brindley (Fosu, 63), Lapslie (Johnstone, 74), Slater, Dickenson; Wright (Vincent-Young, 85); Guthrie, Porter. Subs not used: Barnes, Wynter, Doyley, O’Sullivan.
Attendance:4,114 (201, away)