COLCHESTER United suffered a painful defeat after a stoppage-time goal condemned them to a 1-0 loss at Crawley Town.

Substitute James Tilley's well-taken goal in the third minute of time added on inflicted a disappointing defeat on Steve Ball's side, who have now gone 12 games without a victory in League Two.

It was in the main a scrappy affair that looked like it was heading for a draw, with neither side showing enough quality in key areas to secure what would have been a cherished victory.

But Tilley netted deep into time added on to inflict a heartbreaking defeat on the U's.

Colchester made four changes to their starting line-up and lined up in a 4-4-2 formation.

Aramide Oteh was handed his first start for the U’s since joining on loan from QPR and there were also recalls for goalkeeper Dean Gerken, Omar Sowunmi and Ben Stevenson.

Tom Lapslie dropped out through injury, while Shamal George, Courtney Senior and Josh Doherty, who was not permitted to play against his parent club, dropped out.

Leading scorer Jevani Brown returned on the bench after being omitted against Mansfield Town, as did Michael Folivi.

Crawley were forced into an early change when their central defender Tom Dallison departed with an injury following a sixth-minute challenge with Frank Nouble and was replaced by Archie Davies.

And Colchester almost capitalised on the hosts’ enforced reorganisation a few minute later when Oteh caught Jack Powell in possession midway inside the Crawley half and advanced towards goal but was met by alert keeper Glenn Morris, who was out quickly to avert the danger.

A minute later, Crawley’s Jordan Maguire-Drew tried his luck with a volley from the edge of the area that flew just wide of the U’s goal.

But Colchester went close again in the 20th minute through Sowunmi, whose close-range shot was smothered by Morris at his near post after Crawley had failed to clear a free-kick.

Crawley also threatened on occasions through and Powell dragged a low shot just wide of the post, after a well-worked free-kick routine.

And the hosts came even closer to scoring 11 minutes before the break when Sowunmi’s sliced attempted clearance from Powell’s free-kick hit a post before sailing off for a corner.

There was still time before the break for Kwame Poku to curl a left-foot shot past the far post after advancing into the Crawley area but the sides went in goal-less at the break.

The second half started in scrappy fashion but Colchester came close to breaking the deadlock ten minutes after the break when Oteh’s shot from the edge of the area was brilliantly pushed away by the diving Morris, after the striker’s first attempt had hit Davies in the stomach and rebounded back to him.

Brown and Chilvers were sent on by Colchester midway through the second half in a bid to make a breakthrough, as the visitors switched to a 4-3-2-1 system.

But Crawley came close to winning it with ten minutes to go when Gerken did well to deny Ashley Nadesan from close range and James Tilley’s follow up shot was blocked by Smith, amid appeals for handball from the home side.

The home side looked more likely to score a winner in the closing stages and Tilley coolly stroked home into the far corner from Tom Nichols' pass, to leave the U's beaten.

COLCHESTER UNITED: Gerken, Welch-Hayes, Eastman, Sowunmi, Smith, Poku (sub Chilvers, 67), Pell (sub Wiredu, 31), Stevenson, Harriott (sub Folivi, 89), Nouble, Oteh (sub Brown, 67).

Subs (not used): Tchamadeu, Senior, George.

Crawley Town: Morris, Francomb, Dallison (sub Davies, 6), Nichols, Tunnicliffe, Hesketh (sub Matthews, 63), Maguire-Drew (sub Tilley, 63), Hessenthaler (sub Wright, 89), Powell, Nicholls, Nadesan.

Subs (not used): McNerney, Nelson.

Referee: Tom Nield (West Yorkshire).

Goal: Crawley: Tilley (90).

Bookings: Colchester: Wiredu (foul, 90). Crawley: Tunnicliffe (foul, 44).