LEWIS Grabban struck his ninth goal of the season as Cherries made it 13 matches unbeaten with a 1-0 success over Colchester at Dean Court.

The in-form frontman hit the winner on 41 minutes as Cherries registered their first home victory over the U’s since 1999 in a closely-fought contest this afternoon.

After Wes Fogden, Steve Cook and Brett Pitman had all gone close, Grabban converted clinically with his left foot following a lovely pass from the lively Eunan O’Kane.

Cherries were hit by an injury setback when midfielder Shaun MacDonald was carried off on a stretcher with an ankle problem just before the break.

And the depleted visitors improved dramatically following the restart to test Cherries' resolve.

Josh Thompson and Jabo Ibehre both had efforts blocked while Pitman twice came close at the other end.

But promotion-chasing Cherries moved to within just two points of the play-off zone as their remarkable run under November League One manager of the month Eddie Howe remained on track.

Unsurprisingly given Cherries’ form, Howe kept faith with the team which claimed a 2-1 win at Scunthorpe last time out, with fit-again midfielder Harry Arter replacing Frank Demouge on the bench.

In stark contrast to their hosts, Colchester arrived in Dorset with depleted numbers and on the back of a woeful run of six defeats in their past seven games.

Although boosted by the return of club captain Kem Izzet, U’s boss Joe Dunne admitted he was “down to the bare bones” without the suspended trio of Marcus Bean, Gavin Massey and Magnus Okuonghae.

Pitman, in his first home appearance since rejoining Cherries last month, stung the palms of Mark Cousins as he let fly with the first meaningful effort of the contest on 14 minutes.

Despite plenty of possession, clear-cut chances were proving few and far between for Cherries as Colchester opted to pack the midfield behind lone frontman Ibehre.

And when wing wizard Marc Pugh did manage to provide a glorious opportunity in the 22nd minute, Fogden could only manage to head over from the Lancastrian’s pinpoint delivery.

Cook also found the roof of the net when he rose highest to meet an inswinging corner from Daniels.

Keeper Cousins produced an acrobatic save in the 40th minute after Pitman had diverted a powerful Daniels free-kick towards the corner with an inventive flick header.

But Cousins was left with no chance moments later when Grabban hammered Cherries into the lead. Latching on to a clever pass from O’Kane, Grabban thumped home left-footed from 15 yards.

However, the opening period ended on a sour note for Cherries as MacDonald, an influential midfield performer during the unbeaten run, was carried off on a stretcher to be replaced by Arter.

In a bid to get back into the contest, Colchester boss Dunne made two half-time substitutions and introduced Clinton Morrison to form a two-man attack with Ibehre.

And a much more lively Colchester twice came close to levelling within minutes of the restart. Portsmouth loan defender Thompson, making his full debut, saw a close-range header blocked before Cook threw himself in front of an Ibehre effort as two corners caused problems in the Cherries penalty area.

Pitman’s header was comfortably saved by Cousins before Anthony Wordsworth volleyed straight at David James.

Pitman came agonisingly close to marking his return with a goal when his 64th-minute shot from Pugh’s square pass went narrowly wide.

James saved well from an Ibehre header before Pitman saw his close-range drive blocked on the line.

With the action now end to end, Freddie Sears lashed wide from 20 yards following a forceful run as Colchester upped the ante in their search for an equaliser.

In the closing moments, James got down well to save from Thompson after loud penalty appeals from the visitors had been waved away following Fogden's lunging challenge on Drey Wright.

Cherries: (4-4-2) James; Francis, Elphick, Cook, Daniels; Fogden (Partington, 90), MacDonald (Arter, 45), O’Kane, Pugh; Grabban, Pitman (McQuoid, 86). Unused subs: Fletcher, McDermott, Tubbs, Buchel (g/k).

Colchester: (4-5-1) Cousins; White, Eastman, Thompson, Potts (Wright, h-t); Sears, O’Toole (Morrison, h-t), Izzet (Bond, 68), Wordsworth, Rose; Ibehre. Unused subs: Duguid, Olufemi, Henderson, Pentney (g/k).

Booked: Wordsworth, Ibehre

Referee: Brendan Malone (Wiltshire)

Attendance: 6,145 (including 155 supporters)