COLCHESTER United’s players must show bravery in order to end their recent defensive woes and secure a League Two play-off place, according to their former promotion winner Pat Baldwin.

The ex-U’s defender was at St James Park to see John McGreal’s side slump to defeat against another of his old clubs Exeter City, last weekend.

Colchester have conceded nine goals in their last four matches in which they have lost three times by a 3-0 scoreline.

And Baldwin, who won promotion with Colchester in 2006 under Phil Parkinson, says his former team need to show character on and off the ball if they are to bounce back from successive defeats.

Baldwin told the Gazette: “I was fortunate enough to play in successful teams but I’ve also played in teams where we’ve gone through periods of conceding a lot.

“It’s demoralising and when it happens, you feel sections of the team pass blame.

“It’s more of a collective thing but as a team, Colchester could be defending better and the only way to solve it is through hard work on the training pitch.

“When you’re low in confidence anyway, it’s demoralising when a goal goes in against you and heads go down.

“You’re looking around the pitch for someone to pick you up and confidence is a big thing in any sport.

“They need to show bravery and that’s a big thing to show both on and off the ball, especially when you’re chasing promotion.

“Character is a big thing and as a manager, you know who has it and who hasn’t.”

Baldwin, who made nearly 250 league and cup appearances for Colchester after joining them on a free transfer from Chelsea in 2002, admits his old club were not at their best defensively at Exeter.

“They gave away a couple of poor goals and Exeter coped with the windy conditions better,” said Baldwin, who co-commentates on Exeter’s games for BBC Radio Devon.

“I thought Colchester looked a bit leggy, perhaps because they had a midweek game and Exeter hadn't.

“Colchester were a bit flat footed in defence – Exeter looked a lot sharper and they seemed to want it a bit more.

“It was an amazing finish for Exeter’s first goal but it came from some sloppy defending and it was a pivotal moment in the game.

“Colchester have a lot of potential – they are a young team with young players and they have that to contend with, as well.

“Those young players are getting valuable experience but they need the older players to galvanise the rest to step up to the plate and be leaders.

“Colchester are missing several midfielders at the moment and injuries are going to play a big part, especially if you lose key players from the spine of the team.

“It’s a tough game for them on Saturday.

“Tranmere are a good side and they have James Norwood up front, who’s the league’s top scorer at the moment.

“I’m sure he’ll keep them on their toes but Colchester have good experienced defenders like Tom Eastman and their captain Luke Prosser who is a leader and someone I know from my days at Southend.

“Colchester have gone through difficult periods in the past and got through them – the tide will turn sooner or later and that is something for them to hold onto.”

Baldwin, who was nicknamed Rio by U’s fans owing to his resemblance to Rio Ferdinand’s playing style, played under a host of different managers at Colchester.

He spent nearly a decade at the club before eventually leaving them for Essex rivals Southend United, in January, 2012.

The 36-year-old hung up his boots three years ago, following a three-year spell at Exeter and then a brief stint at Weymouth.

Baldwin, who was Colchester’s 2004-05 Player of the Year, has settled in Devon with his young family and is now working as a primary school teacher.