COLCHESTER United suffered another miserable visit to St James Park after crashing to a 6-1 defeat at impressive Exeter City.

The U’s had been looking to avenge their play-off defeat at the same venue, five months earlier.

But it proved to be another hugely disappointing night for Colchester in Devon, as they slumped to their heaviest defeat under boss Steve Ball.

Michael Folivi grabbed a late goal for the U’s before the end, but in truth it was scant consolation for the visitors who were well beaten.

U’s head coach Ball stuck with the same side that started against Mansfield Town, last Friday.

Ball also went with the same seven substitutes who were on duty in the 1-1 draw, at the One Call Stadium.

Exeter were the better side in the first half and almost took a second-minute lead when Matt Jay’s close-range header from Randell Williams’ cross into the area flew just over.

Colchester did go close themselves two minutes later through leading goalscorer Jevani Brown, who fired in a low shot that Exeter keeper Jokull Andresson comfortably saved, after Courtney Senior had spotted the forward’s run and sent him through with a good pass.

But Exeter were the more menacing side in the opening stages, with the home team getting plenty of joy down the Colchester left primarily through Williams’ trickery and dynamism.

The Grecians went close again in the sixth minute when Jay found room in the area and beat defender Tommy Smith before drilling in a low shot that flew just wide of the far post.

And Exeter inexplicably failed to hit the target seconds later when Joel Randall somehow missed a gilt-edged chance at the far post, scooping the ball over from a yard out after Williams had drilled in a brilliant low cross.

Colchester eventually fell behind in the 20th minute when Jay cleverly flicked the ball in from close range at the near post, from Randall's low cross.

It was a deserved lead for Exeter, who almost doubled their lead on the half hour mark when Ryan Bowman’s header from a corner was hacked off the line by Cohen Bramall.

Exeter’s dominance prompted Ball to change the formation, switching to three at the back with wing-backs and moving Kwame Poku into a central attacking role.

But the Grecians continued to look dangerous and might well have gone in at the break further ahead.

Bowman slid into connect with Jay’s low cross in the area but could only stab the ball wide from close range.

And on the stroke of half-time, the impressive Jay drilled a low shot wide of the far post after Exeter broke the U’s offside trap.

The Grecians deserved their lead at half-time, prompting boss Ball to make a triple change at the break.

Folivi, Luke Norris and Callum Harriott were all introduced, at the expense of Noah Chilvers, Kwame Poku and Miles Welch-Hayes.

But it was Exeter who almost scored again two minutes after the break when Jay was denied by Gerken and then saw his follow-up effort headed off the line and over for a corner from underneath his own crossbar by Tom Eastman.

And the Grecians duly doubled their lead in the 53rd minute when Randall tapped home from close range from Jay’s short pass, after Williams had threaded the ball through.

It was 3-0 four minutes later.

Bowman slid in to score from close range, after Jack Sparkes had delivered a precise low cross from the left.

That left Colchester with a mountain to climb, although they did almost strike a rapid response when Norris’s powerful effort was pushed away well by keeper Andresson for a corner.

Norris’s downward header from Bramall's cross went into the ground and wide of the far post, at the midway point of the second half.

But Bowman made it 4-0 in the 71st minute when he tapped in his second of the game from two yards, after Randall showed great skill to breeze past Scarlett and deliver a low cross.

Folivi gave Colchester a glimmer of hope when he fired in off a post from inside the area, after good work by fellow substitute Harriott had presented him with a chance.

But Bowman almost clinched a hat-trick when his low strike flashed across the face of goal and past the far post, with seven minutes remaining.

Colchester suiffered more misery in the closing minutes when midfielder Ben Stevenson suffered a painful back injury and needed treatment from medical staff, meaning the U's finished the game with only ten men.

It was 5-1 when Bowman completed his hat-trick in stoppage-time, after Sparkes had forced a Gerken error.

And Jay rounded off an outstanding individual and team display when he tapped hom to score his second of the game with practically the last kick of the game, after Nicky Ajose's shot had come back off a post.

COLCHESTER UNITED: Gerken, Welch-Hayes (sub Norris, 46), Smith, Eastman, Bramall, Chilvers (sub Harriott, 46), Pell, Senior (sub Scarlett, 56), Stevenson, Poku (sub Folivi, 46), Brown (sub Bohui, 74).

Subs (not used): Sowunmi, George.

U’s man of the match: Michael Folivi.

Exeter City: Andresson, Sparkes, Sweeney, Key, Parkes, Jay, Taylor, Williams (sub Ajose, 82), Randall (sub Hartridge, 73), Bowman, Collins (sub Atangana, 82).

Subs (not used): McArdle, Law, Fisher, Lee.

Referee: Trevor Kettle (Rutland).

Goals: Colchester: Folivi (73). Exeter: Jay (20, 90), Randall (53), Bowman (57, 71, 90).

Bookings: Colchester: Folivi (foul, 61), Stevenson (foul, 81).