Preston North End turned in one of their poorest performances of the season as they were well beaten by Colchester United at the Weston Homes Community Stadium.
Graham Westley’s side offered little in Essex, the display lacking quality in all areas of the pitch.
Their best chance fell the way of George Miller, making his first league start, early in the game when he rattled the underside of the bar from 25 yards.
But there were few other moments for the 413 travelling North End supporters to get excited about and many made their feelings known at the final whistle.
Steve Gillespie put The U’s ahead from close range in the 19th minute, then netted again from the penalty spot six minutes into the second half.
It was a controversially awarded penalty, a cross striking Paul Coutts on the arm with him unable to get out of the way.
Substitute Andy Bond broke clear to add a third goal for the hosts four minutes into stoppage time and put the seal on a deserved victory.
The inclusion of 20-year-old Miller was one of three changes made to the starting XI by Westley.
Rhys Murphy, on loan from Arsenal, came in for his first start up front alongside Graham Cummins, while Steven Smith returned from injury to play on the left side of midfield .
There was no Alex Marrow in the squad, while Danny Mayor and Chris Holroyd were also absent.
In the opening few minutes there were few signs of the performance to come, Paul Parry shooting over after weaving his way in from the left-wing.
They had the ball in the net in the eighth minute, Chris Robertson stabbing it over the line after Cummins had met a Parry corner at the back post and headed it goalwards.
But the flag went up for offside against Robertson and the effort was chalked off.
The woodwork denied North End in the 17th minute, Miller’s delightful curling shot from 25 yards hitting the underside of the bar.
Within 60 seconds Colchester went up the other end to take the lead with their first chance of the contest.
Martin Rowlands’ corner into the box was met by Wordsworth, his downward header beating Thorsten Stuckmann and being swept over the line by Gillespie from close quarters.
Another corner from Rowlands soon after almost saw The U’s extend their lead, the ensuing scramble seeing Miller clear off the line and then the ball got bundled into the net, only for referee Lee Collins to spot an infringement and rule it out.
For a spell, North End got pinned back by their hosts, Wordsworth just too high with a curling free-kick.
Coutts almost carved out an equaliser in the 34th minute, powering his way down the right and crossing low from the byline.
The ball rolled across the face of the six-yard box but no one in a black kit was alert enough to react and get a touch.
A minute before the interval, Parry’s free-kick from the left was met by Aaron Brown 10 yards out, the centre-back’s header deflecting off a Colchester player and behind for a corner.
An action-packed first few minutes of the second half saw Colchester stretch their lead after twice going close to scoring.
In the 48th minute, Ian Henderson ran past Brown in the box and slipped a shot past Stuckmann but Robertson slid across to clear off the line.
Soon after, Rowlands’ driven free-kick was helped over the bar by Stuckmann, before the hosts were awarded a penalty in controversial circumstances.
Brian Wilson’s cross hit Coutts on the arm - the midfielder no more than a couple of yards away from Wilson and unable to get out of the way.
Referee Collins pointed to the spot and after strong protests from the visitors, Gillespie stepped up to blast home the penalty.
Westley made a double change in the 58th minute, Smith and Murphy giving way to Iain Hume and Jamie Proctor.
A shot on the turn from Hume after he’d collected Parry’s pass was comfortably dealt with by U’s keeper Ben Williams.
And a 78th minute effort from Proctor flashed across the goal and wide of the back stick.
Proctor squandered a golden opportunity to haul North End back into the game seven minutes from time.
Hume’s ball over the top of the home defence put Proctor through on goal, the striker raced into the box and but saw his shot beaten away by Williams.
Cummins managed to react to the rebound but the keeper dived at his feet to clear the danger.
Colchester had the final word when they netted their third goal deep into stoppage time, Bond running through to slot a low shot past Stuckmann.
Colchester: Williams, White, Wilson, Okuonghae, Eastman, Wordsworth, Rowlands (Rose 89), Izzet (Bond 74), Henderson, Odejayi, Gillespie (Duguid 80). Subs: Heath, Sears.
PNE: Stuckmann, Hunt, Robertson, Brown, Smith (Proctor 58), Coutts, Miller, Procter, Parry, Cummins, Murphy (Hume 58). Subs: Nicholson, Devine, Arestidou.
Referee: Lee Collins (Surrey)