Carlisle United 3 Colchester United 2: Aaron Hayden's late header clinched a dramatic victory for Carlisle United in a five-goal thriller against Colchester.

The centre-half nodded in at the far post after 81 minutes of an absorbing Brunton Park clash.

That saw Chris Beech's side edge past their visitors to climb back into the League Two play-off places.

Lewis Alessandra and Jon Mellish had earlier put the Cumbrians 2-0 up in a fine first half display, before Luke Norris scored either side of the break as Colchester fought back.

It was a highly entertaining encounter at United's ground and a positive display from Chris Beech's side.

They took just four minutes to go in front, when Alessandra's cross from the left evaded the onrushing Mellish and the Colchester keeper and defence, the ball sailing into the bottom right of the net.

Carlisle continued to press the visitors to distraction, with Callum Guy impressive in midfield, as they spent more time in the away half.

Joe Riley almost set up Mellish, with the recalled Joshua Kayode also going close at the near post, with the industrious Alessandra also among the chances.

United then doubled their lead, breaking in the 29th minute through Guy and Alessandra, whose low cross from the left was turned across Dean Gerken first-time by Mellish.

It was the in-form midfielder's fifth goal in four games.

Hayden had a chance late in the half before Colchester came back into things, Paul Farman denying Callum Harriott before the visitors grabbed a 44th-minute goal through Norris, who headed home after Steve Ball's team kept the ball alive in the box.

The lead was then wiped out in the 52nd minute when Rod McDonald was judged to have handled a Norris header, the striker then sending Farman the wrong way from the spot.

United tried to reassert themselves and should have gone back in front when some fine work from Alessandra saw Riley break through, only to shoot wide.

Nick Anderton almost juggled his way into a shooting position as United, with Gavin Reilly on for the fading Gime Toure, got back on top.

Mellish shot narrowly wide after good work from Reilly, a series of corners, long throws and set-pieces seeing the Cumbrians pile renewed pressure on the Essex outfit.

Hayden then landed the crucial blow, first having an effort cleared off the line but then pulling into space to head home after Gerken had parried Anderton's shot.

Alessandra saw another effort saved and Reilly shot wide when clean through, and Carlisle were almost pegged back at the death, but Farman saved from Harriott and Hayden made a last-ditch clearance to thwart Norris.

Carlisle, who went up to fifth, are next in action at Oldham on Tuesday.

United: Farman, Tanner, Anderton, Hayden, McDonald, Guy, Mellish, Riley (Furman 86), Toure (Reilly 69), Alessandra (Malley 90), Kayode. Not used: Dewhurst, Devine, Hunt, Charters.

Goals: Alessandra 4, Mellish 29, Hayden 81

Booked: Riley, Mellish, Guy

Colchester: Gerken, Bramall, Eastman, Smith, Scarlett (Welch-Hayes 78), Pell, Harriott, Chilvers, Poku (Bohui 83), Brown (Senior 78), Norris. Not used: George, Sowunmi, Gambin, Marshall Miranda.

Goals: Norris 44, 52pen

Booked: Pell, Harriott

Ref: Martin Coy.