COLCHESTER United's players will have had plenty of time to contemplate their heavy defeat at Exeter City, on their long journey back from Devon.

As they wearily rolled into their beds in the early hours, they might have been forgiven for hoping that they might awake this morning to the realisation that the events of St James Park were just a dream – or more accurately, a nightmare.

Unfortunately, the reality is that the U’s were beaten 6-1 by a rampant Exeter City side who were as clinical as Colchester were porous.

This result rather came out of the blue, for Colchester.

Admittedly, the U's away form has not been as good as they might have liked so far this season.

But prior to their trip to Exeter, they had taken seven points from a possible nine in League Two and had also been 6-1 winners themselves, over rivals Southend United.

And with both sides starting the evening side-by-side in the play-off positions, no-one saw this result coming.

But from first moment until last, Colchester were overwhelmed by an Exeter who proved too quick in both speed and thought for Steve Ball’s side.

It was only 1-0, at half-time.

But in truth that scoreline was flattering for the U’s after a dominant first-half display from the hosts.

And despite Ball’s attempts to change things around, including a triple substitution at the break, the Grecians turned the screw in a rampant second half.

Colchester did score a consolation goal, through substitute Michael Folivi.

But that was all it was and in truth, there were few other positives on a bad night for the U’s.

Colchester have set high standards for themselves, this season.

Which is even more reason why this defeat - and shipping six goals in the process - has come as something of a shock to everyone.

Frankly, Colchester looked a pale imitation of the side that had so impressively beaten the likes of Leyton Orient and Stevenage, only a few days earlier.

The anger and disappointment felt by boss Ball was clear for all to see and hear, in his post-match interview at St James Park.

Indeed, it had also been pretty evident before that during the game, with the U’s head coach’s voice regularly heard throughout the 90 plus five minutes inside the near-deserted stadium.

Ball knows that he can make no excuses for his players, following their lacklustre showing.

But as always after a freak result such as this, a little perspective is also needed alongside the inevitable criticism.

Put simply, Colchester have not become a bad side overnight.

The U’s are only two points off the play-off places in League Two and have just made one of their best starts to a season in years.

Only six sides have a better goalscoring record in the fourth tier and prior to last night, Colchester boasted one of the best defensive tallies in the division.

They have a full week now to get back to basics on the training ground, as they prepare for their back-to-back home games against Crawley Town next Tuesday and then Grimsby Town on Saturday week.

That time at Florence Park will undoubtedly be crucial, as they bid to bounce back from this defeat.

The last time Colchester shipped six in a league game was when they were thumped 6-0 at Chesterfield back in April, 2015.

After that heavy defeat, they embarked on a run of two wins and two defeats to secure their League One status.

A similar response is needed from Ball’s men this time around, although this time with eyes firmly looking up towards the top of the table, rather than down.