COLCHESTER United bowed out of the Carabao Cup at the first hurdle after losing 3-1 to Reading at the Madejski Stadium this afternoon.
But despite their first-round exit, the U’s can be pretty proud of their performance where they were much the better side in the first half and matched their Championship hosts for long periods.
Colchester had led through Jevani Brown’s exquisite finish but Reading were stronger in the second half and Portuguese striker Lucas Joao’s hat-trick eased the hosts to victory.
Steve Ball took charge of his first competitive match since being appointed the U’s head coach.
And the new Colchester boss handed a senior debut to teenage right-back Miquel Scarlett while new arrival Tommy Smith made his first appearance since joining the U’s on a two-year deal, last month.
There was also an opportunity for young midfielder Noah Chilvers, who made his sixth first-team appearance for the U’s.
Colchester made a very confident start and dominated possession in the opening stages, as they began the new season with a behind-closed-doors cup-tie due to Covid-19.
They almost made a breakthrough in the seventh minute when Kwame Poku’s ball split the home defence and released Brown in space down the right flank inside the Reading half.
But the attacker’s attempted squared pass to Callum Harriott failed to reach its target and the ball was cleared.
Harry Pell’s fierce goalbound shot was blocked by a Reading defender soon after, after Chilvers had picked out the U’s captain in space in the home area.
And minutes later, Harriott’s cross was almost turned into his own net by Reading defender Michael Morrison after more U’s pressure.
The Royals registered their first shot on target when Sam Baldock’s low shot flew straight at Dean Gerken, after Sone Aluko had done well to pick him out.
But Colchester looked good both in and out of possession and Scarlett’s shot was blocked in the area, after good play by Brown had set him up.
The U’s finally made a deserved breakthrough in the 38th minute, with the first goal of the tie.
Smith’s pass sent Cohen Bramall away down the left and the full-back delivered a precise low cross which Brown brilliantly flicked first-time past keeper Luke Southwood from close range.
It looked like Colchester would take that advantage in with them at half-time.
But seconds before the break, Joao’s header from Felipe Araruna’s cross into the box levelled things up for the hosts, who were rather fortunate to go in at half-time level.
Reading had a good chance to take the lead three minutes after the interval when Josh Laurent blasted wide unmarked at the far post from a corner.
Laurent missed another decent opportunity for Reading soon after, as the Championship side began to exert their authority on the tie.
And the U’s fell behind for the first time in the tie when Joao clinically fired in from close range, after Michael Olise’s pass had broken the offside trap and picked him out.
Joao completed his hat-trick with 15 minutes remaining, turning well in the area before slamming a shot past Gerken from close range.
Harriott had a good chance to reduce the deficit two minutes later when he was sent through by Brown but could only scuff a shot well wide, with only Southwood to beat.
Gerken made a good save to deny Reading substitute Nahum Melvin-Lambert near the end, as the U’s bowed out.
COLCHESTER UNITED: Gerken, Scarlett, Smith, Eastman, Bramall, Pell, Chilvers (sub Senior, 71), Stevenson (sub Marshall-Miranda, 87), Poku, Harriott, Brown.
Substitutes (not used): Sowunmi, Welch-Hayes, McLeod, Hutchinson, George.
Reading: Southwood, Araruna, Bristow, Moore, Morrison, Laurent, Olise, Aluko, McNulty (sub Rinomhota, 46), Baldock (sub Richards, 66), Joao (sub Melvin-Lambert, 81).
Substitutes (not used): Andresson, Teket, Samuels, Abbey.
Referee: J Smith.
Goals: Colchester: Brown (38).
Reading: Joao (45, 56, 75).
Sending off: None.