Despite taking an early lead Exeter City had two players sent off and shipped five goals in a completely bewildering capitulation at a bitterly cold Western Holmes Community Stadium this afternoon.
In a positive start Daniel Nardiello was on hand to tap in John O'Flynn's low centre to give City a twentieth minute lead.
But by half-time Colchester had levelled from a corner and to boot Steve Tully had seen red for an attempted last ditch tackle.
Scott Golbourne's trip on Ashley Vincent resulted in City's second dismissal of the afternoon and the resulting penalty was converted.
Colchester proceeded to ram home their numerical advantage scoring three more times in a 12 minute period to compound City's misery. They could have added further goals in the final stages but 5-1 was how it stayed.
City started assertively playing most of the football without creating a decisive chance. Scott Golbourne had an early sight of goal but turned down a shot when well placed on his weaker right foot and the ball instead broke to Steve Tully who hooked his powerful effort wide from 20 yards out.
On 20 minutes though the largely anonymous O'Flynn burst into life, finding space to receive a quick throw on the right before timing his delicate low cross to perfection for Nardiello to gratefully accept at the far-post to put City 1-0 up.
The goal sparked the hosts into action and City found themselves being pushed back under forceful attacks. but the defence - who were missing captain Matt Taylor - were marshalling attacks well and Ben Hamer was untroubled in goal.
All that changed on the half hour though when the referee made his first controversial decision of the game, awarding Colchester a corner when Tully seemed to have played the ball out of play off his marker. From the resulting set play Steven Gillespie found enough space between two defenders to direct a header down the centre of Hamer's goal which evaded the keeper's reach . 1-1.
Five minutes later Colchester were breaking forward again, this time through the lively Vincent who was bearing down on goal before Tully made a late intervention that the referee deemed illegal. Tully's mortified team mates protested furiously but they couldn't stop the inevitable red card that followed.
City's only reprieve was that the resulting free-kick went just past the post and the scores remained level.
Just before the break City came agonisingly close to re-taking the lead. Golbourne neatly beat his marker before clipping in a beautiful inviting cross for O'Flynn at the back-post, The Irishman's header seemed destined for the net but Ben Williams produced a stunning one-handed save, deflecting the ball onto the post before it was hacked to safety.
City were comfortably holding their own with ten men in the early second-half exchanges, but things were about to turn sour again for the Grecians. On 73 minutes Vincent again wriggled free of the attentions of his marker but his route to goal was halted by an over enthusiastic recovering Golbourne who clattered into the back of him to concede a penalty. As if the spot-kick wasn't punishment enough Golbourne was adjudged to have been the last man and he too was sent-off. A real shame for Golbourne who had been having an excellent afternoon until then.
David Mooney slammed home the penalty to put Colchester 2-1 up against Paul Tisdale's now heavily depleted troops.
Three minutes later and Vincent capped his fine performance with a goal. A long pass forward caused indecision between Hamer and Sercombe leaving the keeper hopelessly out of his goal and Vincent capitalised to lift the ball into the vacant net for 3-1.
Sixty seconds later, another attack and another goal for the hosts. Losing possession soon after kick-off City's nine men were sliced open by a now rampant Colchester and Gillespie swiftly pounced to collect a pass and sweep home goal number four.
The fifth and final goal came on 86 minutes. A close range effort rebounded off the post only for Andy Bond to smash in the rebound from just inside the box to put further gloss to the score line.
A clearly dejected City got rapturous applause from the number of travelling Grecians at full-time, who appreciated the efforts of the players who had been subject to wave after wave of attack since the second red.
After a bright opening everything that could have gone wrong today did. Roll on Tuesday when we can forget about this one when Swindon visit the Park.
City: Hamer, Tully, Duffy, Archibald-Henville, Golbourne, Dunne, Sercombe, Harley, O'Flynn (Logan), Cureton (Cozic), Nardiello (Jones)