Gills suffered their first defeat of 2014 as the U's claim the points at the Weston Home Stadium
With Charlie Lee having picked up a knock in the 1-0 win over Wolves at Priestfield, Peter Taylor made one change to the starting XI, Bradley Dack coming into the midfield, with new loan signings Connor Smith and Jack Marriott starting on the bench.
The Gills, clad in the all pink away kit that brought a win on their last away outing at Tranmere, went on the offensive direct from the kick-off with Craig Fagan hitting a cross come shot onto the roof of the net, and Cody McDonald seeing a shot-on-the-turn blocked in the opening minutes.
In the fifth minute the visitors saw a decent shout for a penalty turned down after Steven Gregory’s neat pass had sent McDonald through shoulder to shoulder with Magnus Okounghae, the pair went to ground on the left hand side of the box but the referee ruled in the defender’s favour.
The hosts first chance came from a tenth minute corner, Everton loanee Luke Garbutt delivering a pinpoint flag-kick to meet the run of Clinton Morrison, but the former Premier League hot-shot nodded his finish wide of
Nelson’s far post.
Both sides passing styles were hampered by a heavy pitch, due to overnight rainfall, but chances continued to come at either end. Stuart Nelson turning a 21st minute Craig Eastmond effort round the post from Morrison’s knock down, before McDonald was unlucky with a rising drive from 20 yards out that just cleared Sam Walker’s top left corner.
On the half hour, Colchester threatened again after Sanchez Watt sent Garbutt clear on the left of goal, Nelson stood up well to deny his angled shot to the near post and Eastmond, following-up, lashed the loose ball wide.
Minutes later Garbutt, who was comfortably the U’s best player in the first-half, tried his luck from distance again, firing goalwards from 22 yards, only to be denied by Nelson, with Adam Barrett arriving first on the scene to clear the danger as an even half saw both sides all square at the break.
The home side were the first to fashion an opening after the restart, Garbutt with a curling strike from distance that Nelson did well to parry low to his right hand post, the Gills custodian then recovered to claim the ball as Tom Eastman bore down to convert.
Then on in the 50th minute the U’s took the lead through a quick counter attack, the ball was worked wide to Brian Wilson on the right of goal who squared for Sanchez Watt to stab Colchester in front from 10 yards out.
In reply Danny Kedwell headed a 57th minute Jake Hessenthaler corner over the bar before Dominic Vose weaved his way through the Gills defence and was unlucky not to stretch his side’s advantage with a dinked shot that just cleared the crossbar.
Nelson denied Garbutt once more, diving to his right to keep a low drive out of his far corner, while soon after Joe Martin saw yellow for a late tackle on Vose. Then in the 64th minute Peter Taylor made a double change, debutant Connor Smith on for Dack and Bayo Akinfenwa replacing Fagan.
Garbutt sent a free-kick inches over the bar from the left side of the area and Vose was unlucky with a shot to the near post, that Nelson forced behind on 71 minutes, Morrison shooting over from Garbutt’s resulting corner as the home side looked to extend their lead.
At the other end Smith had a shot charged down after a the midfielder had made a neat run into the box, before the Gills made their final change on 74 minutes, Myles Weston replacing Hessenthaler to give the side more attacking threat for the closing stages.
But it was Colchester who looked the likelier to score, Marcus Bean with a superb cross from the right to find Eastmond, Nelson pulling off a wonder save to keep his low drilled effort out of the Gills bottom right corner.
The U’s then wrapped up the points four minutes from time from a free-kick wide on the right, the ball found its way to Clinton Morrison in the area and the former Crystal Palace striker smashed home from inside the area.
There was still time for Weston to test the U's keeper in time added-on while Joe Martin fired over from Akinfenwa's lay-off before the U's added their third as Freddie Sears pounced on a misplaced Legge header to slot beyond Nelson and cement the win.
Attendance: 3819 (Gillingham 936)
Gillingham: Stuart Nelson, Joe Martin, Adam Barrett, Leon Legge, Michael Harriman, Bradley Dack (Connor Smith 64), Jake Hessenthaler Myles Weston 74), Steven Gregory, Craig Fagan (Bayo Akinfenwa 64), Danny Kedwell, Cody McDonald
Subs not used: George Howard, Amine Linganzi, Callum Davies, Jack Marriott
Colchester: Sam Walker, David Wright, Magnus Okuonghae, Craig Eastmond, Sanchez Watt (Freddie Sears 88), Clinton Morrison (Macauley Bonne 88), Marcus Bean, Tom Eastman, Brian Wilson, Dominic Vose (Tosin Olufemi 86), Luke Garbutt
Subs not used: Mark Cousins, Jordan Sanderson, Mason Spence, Frankie Kent
Referee – Mr D Drysdale
Assistants – Mr R Kendall & Mr M Smith
Fourth Official – Mr M Mellor