Wayne Collins clinched a vital win in a tense tussle of the table-toppers at Colchester United as Fulham registered their fifth win from five games this season.

The former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder, introduced as a substitute just after the hour mark, secured a smash and grab success for Kevin Keegan’s side when he fired home after being picked out by substitute Paul Peschisolido to put Fulham ahead with just even minutes to play. That strike came seriously against the run of the play with Colchester having penned the Whites back for much of the second half.

The hosts did have chances as Fulham faded following a strong start. Former Ipswich forward Neil Gregory had the best opportunity but he shot wide when through on goal after an uncharacteristic mistake by Cottagers’ captain Chris Coleman. Colchester did have the ball in the net but defender David Greene was denied by an offside flag having touched home a header from striker Mark Sale.

Keegan’s side had threatened to overwhelm their hosts after beginning at a high tempo. Dirk Lehmann, who has enjoyed a fantastic start to life in English football, looked their most likely source of an opener as he stretched the Colchester defence twice in the first five minutes. The German striker produced an athletic volley that dropped just over the crossbar before forcing a fine save from Chris Emberson with a looping header.

But United grew in confidence the longer the game went on and seized the initiative as Keegan replaced Beardsley, Lehmann and Beardsley with Fulham’s forward line fading. But the crucial difference between the sides was that the Londoners – through Collins – took their chance, whilst Colchester couldn’t deliver in the final third.

COLCHESTER UNITED (3-4-3): Emberson; Stamps, Dunne (Forbes 85), Greene; Gregory, Wilkins, Buckle, Williams; Abrahams (Haydon 85), Gregory, Sale (Adcock 85).

BOOKED: Stamps.

FULHAM (4-4-2): Taylor; Uhlenbeek, Brevett, Symons, Coleman; Bracewell, Morgan, Hayward, Salako (W. Collins 62); Lehmann (Peschisolido 72), Beardsley (Moody 72).

GOAL: W. Collins (82).

REFEREE: Steve Bennett (Orpington).