Colchester United under-18 lead coach Chris Llewellyn says his youngsters can ‘hold their heads up high’ after their spirited FA Youth Cup run came to an end.

The U’s were beaten 5-1 by Arsenal in their quarter-final at the Weston Homes Community Stadium last night, to bow out of the competition.

It was only the second time that Colchester have reached the last eight of the FA Youth Cup and Llewellyn insists his side should be proud of their efforts.

Llewellyn said: “Our lads can hold their heads up high – they have done everything that’s been asked of them and they should be proud of themselves.

“I said to the boys that they should use the game as a stepping stone and a learning curve and in football, you don’t always get a second chance.

“We got that against Arsenal and we learnt a lot of the lessons.

“That’s why they’re at Arsenal – they’ve got that quality and they are ruthless.

“All credit to our boys for getting into those areas but at times that little bit of quality can let them down.

“We pushed them all the way but their quality came through in the end when our boys tired.”

Colchester fell behind to Emile Smith-Rowe’s opener, just before half-time.

And although skipper Callum Jones equalised from the penalty spot shortly after the break, Bukayo Saka quickly restored Arsenal’s advantage before Smith-Rowe made it 3-1 and further goals from Fol Balogun and Xavier Amaechi wrapped up the visitors’ win.

“We had a game plan we’d worked on all week and for 55 to 60 minutes, the lads were excellent against a very, very good side,” said former Swansea City under-21 coach Llewellyn.

“They couldn’t deal with us especially in the first half and we probably could have gone in at half-time 1-0 up.

“Their keeper has pulled off some fantastic saves as well – yes, they hit the post but I spoke to their manager and he said that in the first half, we were very, very good.

“It’s probably the best hour of football that we’ve produced at the club for a long, long time at his level.

“Yes, we didn’t really deserve to be here because Reading beat us in the last round but the lads rose to the occasion.

“At 3-1, the game was gone really but we went a bit more expansive to try and get a goal.

“We gave it a real go but their quality was very good, especially when our boys tired in the last half an hour.

“For an hour, it looked like everyone believed they could win but goals change games.”