Colchester United enjoyed the test of Premier League opposition on Tuesday night, as they fell to a narrow defeat against West Ham.
It was a big step up from the previous encounters in pre-season, but the U's gave a good account of themselves against a full strength Hammers squad.
And they got the rewards their efforts deserved when Jabo Ibehre powered home a header from a cross by the impressive Tosin Olufemi, deputising for Brian Wilson at right back.
Next up, Spurs, and another big test of the U's qualities ahead of the new season.
The U’s named a strong starting eleven for the game versus the Hammers, as they stepped things up in their pre-season preparations.
The Hammers were equally strong, with the majority of their team regular starters in their Premier League XI.
The visitors took the lead as a heavy touch from a backpass by Mark Cousins allowed Joe Cole to close down the U’s keeper and he blocked the ball into the empty net.
The U’s opponents were sharp in the tackle and were winning a lot of the ball early on, and pressed the U’s hard when they attempted to go forwards.
Bean had the first sight of goal for the U’s, as he picked up the ball in midfield and drove in a shot from distance that Adrian collected at his midriff.
Then, after the Hammers had seen Cole denied by both Cousins and the offside flag, Clinton Morrison forced a great stop out of Adrian, as the keeper flung himself to his left to turn away a curled effort from the U’s man.
The U’s were happy for the visitors to play in their own half, but pressed the ball as soon as it came across the halfway line.
It was working well for them – Cousins not having much to do beyond the early opportunities for Sam Allardyce’s men.
The U’s were creating opportunities of their own. On the half hour mark, Massey got inside his full back and then cut across Collins, before curling an effort that skipped just past the far post with Adrian at full stretch.
They were, in fact, probably having the better of it as the first half wound to a close, although Cousins had to be sharp off his line to smother from Lee as he broke the U’s defensive line.
At the other end, the U’s were twice denied by brave defensive blocks by the Hammers centre halves, with Bond’s effort the better one that almost found a path to goal.
One down at the break, the U’s soon found themselves further behind when a corner from the left saw Collins rise highest and he deftly flicked the ball inside the far post to double the Hammers’ advantage.
The Premier League side had started the second half the brighter, and keeper Adrian nearly got caught in a similar fashion to Cousins’ first half encounter with Cole.
This time, Massey put the keeper off but Izzet’s cross was retrieved by the Hammers man as he backpedalled towards goal.
The U’s made their first change on the hour mark as Gilbey replaced Bean, with the midfielder keen to make an impression after his successful loan spell at Newport last season.
Chances remained limited, although Maiga sidefooted wide not long after his introduction, although his blushes were spared by the offside flag.
Midway through the second half, Watt made his home return to much acclaim from the U’s supporters. It’s clear he will be a popular figure this season.
The Hammers were enjoying more of the ball in the second period, though, but Massey stung Adrian’s fingertips with a shot straight at the keeper with fifteen to go.
Cousins was in action after that, three times in a row pulling off good stops when the Hammers seemed destined to score. The two reaction saves in quick succession were particularly impressive.
The U’s made a series of changes with fifteen to go and one of those, Michael O’Donoghue, got down the left not long after his introduction, but Watt lifted his cross over the bar.
Watt did better with four minutes to go, latching onto a Olufemi pass to drill one again into the midriff of Adrian.
But the U's did get the goal their efforts deserved, as Olufemi was again in the thick of things, sending over a cross for Ibehre to power a header home.
Cousins, Olufemi, Okuonghae, Eastman (Pappoe 76), Barrett (O’Donoghue 76), Bond, Izzet, Bean (Gilbey 60), Sears (Watt 67), Morrison (Ibehre 76), Massey (Drey Wright 76)
Att: 6,610 (away 2,569)