Gary Smith admitted he is facing the toughest challenge of his managerial career after watching his Stevenage side slip to their sixth successive loss with a 2-0 defeat at home to Colchester.

After a goalless first half, Jabo Ibehre struck for the first time in seven games to give Colchester the lead on 62 minutes with a fine header. And Ibehre made the game safe after 73 minutes when he tapped in following a fine run from Gavin Massey to lift Colchester out of the relegation zone.

Boro are now just seven points above the drop and Smith admits his side must win a quarter of their remaining games to survive.

"It's turning into the toughest challenge I've ever had no doubt about it, but I'm up for it, and I know he guys are," he said. "It's a poor result at home against a side who are trying to get themselves out of trouble.

"The challenge for us is a simple one. We probably need three wins out of the last 12 games to secure our status which I would absolutely fully back my team to go and do.

"As we well know in this league, if you get a result it can change things.

"If you lose six games on the spin you absolutely feel the pressure, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't, the challenge is a real big one and as a young manager it's a challenge that I'm up for. It will stand me in very good stead. But we'll keep fighting and battling on."

Colchester manager Joe Dunne admitted his job between now and the season's end was to keep the heat off his players.

"We didn't look like a relegation team. We can't worry about the pressure, I told them I'll take the bullets, they just have to play," he said. "We've been in and out of the bottom four, we deal with this pressure every day, it would be nice to know what it's like to be safe and not have the pressure but we're used to it. We work every day under it.

"We can't let our standards drop at all, and we showed we didn't. We know that if we do we'll get beaten. We don't do draws, you have to have that level of commitment and aspiration to stay in the league."