Barnsley boss Lee Johnson all but admitted that his team’s League One play-off hopes are over after the Reds crashed 3-1 at relegation-threatened Colchester.
“We’ve given ourselves a lot to do now,” admitted Johnson, whose side suffered a second Easter defeat and are now seven points shy of the top six.
“My players should be very, very disappointed with themselves. I’m frustrated and very angry, but it does happen at times.
“There’s that soft underbelly at the moment and we have to stamp that out.”
Prospects had looked rosy for the Reds at the interval after George Waring’s 40th-minute opener, but the U’s roared back to register a stunning victory thanks to second-half strikes from Gavin Massey, Jacob Murphy and George Moncur.
A second straight defeat leaves the Reds now crucially well adrift of sixth-placed Chesterfield, though Lee Johnson’s men do welcome the Spireites to Oakwell next up on Saturday.
Reds boss Johnson had made four changes to the team beaten for the first time in 10 games on Saturday by the Blades. In the wake of their disappointing derby defeat at Oakwell, Johnson drafted James Bailey and Milan Lalkovic back into the midfield, while Waring replaced Sam Winnall up front.
Adam Davies was back between the sticks following his recent injury, replacing loan man Joe Wildsmith. Loan frontman Jabo Ibehre, meanwhile, was unable to feature against his parent club.
The Reds led at half-time in what was their first-ever visit to Colchester’s smart Weston Homes Community Stadium. The opening goal came just five minutes before the break in rather scruffy fashion from recalled striker Waring.
The Stoke City loanee bundled home his sixth Barnsley goal from close range after just beating Lewin Nyatanga to Conor Hourihane’s dangerous free-kick into the six-yard box.
Earlier Davies was called into action early on when he stretched to save ex-Blade Chris Porter’s well-directed header. Hourihane saw a shot blocked by Bongali Khumalo, while the U’s responded with Davies this time keeping out an effort from Jacob Murphy. Waring had been looking a threat throughout, before he eventually did make his mark with a goal.
The lanky front-man watched frustrated as a header was deflected narrowly wide by Alex Wynter’s touch, while he was a whisker away from meeting a brilliant out-swinging cross from marauding left-back Declan John.
The Reds opened the second period encouragingly, though they fluffed a terrific opportunity in the 50th minute. Josh Scowen tee’d up Hourihane on the edge of the box, but the 12-goal midfielder blazed a strike uncharacteristically high and wide.
The U’s roared back into contention, however, with two great chances going begging inside a minute.
Porter beat Nyatanga to a challenge before seeing a low drive superbly pushed round the post by Davies, while Wynter ought to have done much better when charging into the Reds’ box and heading straight at the grateful ‘keeper. Back came Barnsley, roared on by a noisy 700-strong travelling army, with midfield enforcer Ben Pearson rifling in a terrific shot from 20 yards which Sam Walker was agile in keeping out.
It was the U’s who levelled matters, against the run of play, just after the hour mark.
Murphy was allowed too much time and space to cross in for Gavin Massey, who slid in to convert from close range. Murphy nodded home to hand the U’s the lead with just 10 minutes remaining, before Moncur added the coup-de-gras in the 86th minute to keep the hosts’ hopes of avoiding the drop well and truly alive.
Colchester: Walker, Brindley, Khumalo, Eastman, Wynter, Moncur, Szmodics (Gilbey, 56), Lapslie, Porter, Massey, Murphy.
Subs not used: Lewington, Vincent-Young, Harney, Healey, Bonne, Sembie-Ferris.
Yellow cards: Szmodics (13), Massey (32).
Red cards: None.
Barnsley: Davies, Holgate, Cranie, Nyatanga, John, Scowen, Bailey (Winnall, 76), Pearson, Hourihane (Berry, 90), Lalkovic (Stewart, 71), Waring.
Subs not used: Dibble, Smith, Ramage, Hemmings.
Yellow cards: Bailey (26), Lalkovic (49), Cranie (87), Berry (90).
Red cards: None.
Referee: Keith Hill (Hertfordshire).
Star man: Conor Hourihane.