Colchester United returned home to the Jobserve Community Stadium on Saturday as they took on Tranmere Rovers in a crucial clash in League Two.
The U’s held league leaders Leyton Orient to a 2-2 draw on the road last weekend, with Ben Garner’s men scoring twice late on to pick up a valuable point in the A12 derby.
An excellent performance away from home meant that the manager decided to stick with the same starting XI that featured against the O’s, with plenty of firepower on the bench if needed.
The U’s started on the front foot and tested the goalkeeper early on, but it was Tranmere who took the lead through Harvey Saunders, who latched on to a ball over the top and headed the ball away from Kieran O’Hara before sliding it into an empty net.
Tom Hopper had a massive chance to level proceedings with ten to play in the first half, his touch from Junior Tchamadeu’s initial strike sailed wide of the post and out for a goal kick.
Not much was offered in the remaining stages of the first-half, Samson Tovide went close but Joe Murphy in goal was never really troubled and the U’s went in behind at the break.
The U’s had a massive shout for a penalty early in the second half after Tovide looked to be clipped by Murphy, but instead was booked for diving by referee Carl Boyeson.
But the Colchester persistence finally paid off and Connor Hall earned his side a penalty after being dragged down in the box.
Noah Chilvers stepped up and drilled home from the spot to level the score at 1-1.
Much of the second half was played in Tranmere territory and Garner opted for attacking changes in a bid to claim all three points instead of one.
The U’s remained camped in the the opposition’s half and nearly found the breakthrough as substitute Freddie Sears forced a big save from Murphy for the second time since coming on.
But it was not to be for the home side who had to settle for a point despite a commanding second half display.
The U’s were looking to hit the ground running at home and pick up three valuable points against Tranmere, who sat 12 points above the Essex side at the start of the day.
Starting on the front foot was key in front of an expectant crowd, and the players could sense the opportunity with rivals around them facing off against each other on Saturday afternoon.
Tovide almost had his side ahead within the opening 30 seconds, latching on to a poor clearance from the opposition but failing to create a significant chance with the ball.
Tchamadeu was heavily involved on the right-hand side, using his pace and skill to good effect and winning the first corner of the match.
Regan Hendry tried to drag his players up the pitch after a sustained period of pressure from the home side, but his flicked ball on the edge of the box was not accurate enough and it rolled through to O’Hara.
Tovide then went close to an opener in the tenth minute, driving a low effort from outside the penalty area and forcing a good save from Murphy in goal.
But the U’s were caught napping at the back and after twelve minutes found themselves behind.
A ball over the top was met by Saunders who prodded the ball past O’Hara and then passed the ball into an empty net.
Joel Mumbongo tested the Irishman in net shortly after Tranmere took the lead, holding off several defenders before striking towards goal, but it was no issue for the man in net.
Both Ossama Ashley and Hall required treatment having picked up separate knocks. After some medical attention, they were cleared to continue as the U’s looked for a way back into the game.
A Tranmere corner required some more defensive work, a flick on from Chris Merrie required a strong punch from O’Hara before another set piece was flicked over the bar.
Having initially carried on, Ashley had to leave the pitch with an injury, Arthur Read came on to replace him in midfield.
Hopper missed a huge chance to draw the U’s level. A shot from Tchamadeu fell to the striker, but the ball fell slightly behind him, and he could only prod his effort wide.
Mumbongo was first to be shown a yellow card after committing numerous fouls on U’s players in the first half.
Chilvers was the next to have a go from range, but his curled effort sailed harmlessly into the North stand three minutes from half time.
Four minutes were added on with the U’s still chasing the game, and Tovide’s looping cross nearly caught Murphy out, but a defender was on hand to turn it away for a corner.
The resulting play led to nothing and the whistled sounded for the break.
No changes from the U’s at half-time and Garner’s men emerged back into the sunshine on looking to make their mark on proceedings.
An early corner nearly fashioned the perfect start after the Fiacre Kelleher met Read’s corner but there were no blue and white shirts to pounce on the loose ball.
The Tranmere substitute, Lee O’Connor tried his luck from twenty-five yards but dragged his strike wide.
Tovide was booked a few minutes later for simulation after it appeared that Murphy caught him in the box, but the referee decided that there was no contact and therefore no penalty.
Tom Davies was then shown a card for pulling back the shirt of the U’s number thirty-four after he appeared through on goal.
Chilvers then forced a save out of the keeper, striking sweetly on the volley but Murphy was equal to the powerful hit.
Garner introduced two attacking players in Jayden Fevrier and Matt Jay with thirty minutes to play, who came on in place of Al-Amin Kazeem and Alex Newby.
Chilvers the had the Tranmere keeper scrambles to block another effort after a well worked attack from a drop ball.
A penalty was then given after Connor Hall was dragged down, Murphy was booked in the process and Chilvers stepped up to power home the equaliser.
Frustration was showing for the visitors as Jordan Turnbull had two swipes at Tovide, resulting in another card being shown by the referee.
Tchamadeu and Ethan Bristow were also carded follow a tussle on the touchline, taking the total for the day to seven.
More changes for Colchester ahead of the last quarter. John Akinde and Sears entered the fray in place of Tovide and Hopper.
Sears was straight into the thick of it with a tame volley, but it fell straight into the lap of Murphy who looked to spring a counter-attack but it was broken up by Read who was booked.
Saunders was then carded for diving in the box and the U’s had a free kick with a few minutes left in the match.
Fiacre Kelleher was the next in man to be cautioned for a slight tug on an opposition player.
Seven minutes were added on, and the game looked open in the closing stages.
The U’s had a corner in the final kick of the match and the delivery from Chilvers was flicked on but eventually cleared.
It finished all square in Essex with both sides taking home a point apiece.
Colchester United XI: O’Hara, Chambers, Chilvers, Kelleher, Ashley (Read, 30), Newby (Jay 60), Tchamadeu, Hopper (Sears, 77), Hall, Kazeem (Fevrier, 60), Tovide (Akinde, 77)
Subs: Smith, Greenidge, Sears, Read, Jay, Akinde, Fevrier
Tranmere Rovers XI: Murphy, Dacres-Cogley, Bristow, Davies, Merrie, Hawkes (Turner-Cooke, 72), Turnbull, Hughes (O’Connor, 46), Hendry, Mumbongo (Burton, 77), Saunders (Chalmers, 90)
Subs: O’Connor, Chalmers, Burton, Taylor, Turner-Cooke, Hoti