Colchester eased their relegation fears with a vital 1-0 win over fellow strugglers Preston and manager Joe Dunne could not hide his delight.

Freddie Sears's fourth goal in five games was enough to give the U's victory over the Lilywhites, who had defender Bailey Wright sent off near the end.

Dunne said: "It was a very good victory. There are all kinds of victory, but the manner of our victory was very, very pleasing. It was a gritty game and it was a game where discipline was key.

"I thought that we had enough quality in terms of how we attacked Preston to win the game. We played the first half well and we hit the post and got into some good situations. Preston threw everything at us and we defended exceptionally well and knew what was coming."

Colchester keeper Sam Walker brilliantly saved Andy Proctor's header early on, while U's winger Gavin Massey rattled the post midway through the first half with a first-time shot from the edge of the area.

Sears bagged the winner 10 minutes after half-time when he converted from close range after Thorsten Stuckmann had initially saved Jabo Ibehre's effort after he had broken the offside trap.

Preston's Lee Holmes hit the crossbar with a curling shot with 18 minutes to go. But the visitors' hopes were ended when Wright was sent off following an off-the-ball altercation with Ibehre with eight minutes remaining as Colchester secured a crucial win.

Preston manager Graham Westley said he offered no excuses for his side, who have not won any of their last six games. Westley said: "You get what you deserve in life and in football and you can't look for excuses. We have to get ourselves out of this rut of not winning games and we have to look at ourselves as individuals.

"There are little things that we have to look - we need to get the technical things right. Had we done the simple things better, then we'd be standing here with a better result. The work ethic over the 90 minutes was solid and the difference between what we're doing and winning is very slight at the moment.

"But we need to make sure that we get over the line better. We can't point to the officials for the result - we have to take responsibility."