Andy Taylor's stunning last-gasp free-kick may have rescued a point for Walsall – but it should never have come to that.
When the left-back stood over the ball, 25 yards out as the clock ticked into the sixth minute of stoppage time, the Saddlers were on the brink of taking nothing from a game they largely dominated.
Seconds later he was wheeling away in delight having blasted the ball past home keeper Sam Walker and into the top corner for his first competitive goal in more than five years.
But even Taylor, delighted as he was with the strike, later admitted to a sense of disappointment it was only one point Dean Smith’s side were taking back to the Midlands.
If ever a game summed up the good, the bad and the ugly of the Saddlers to this point of the campaign, it was this one.
Defensively solid almost throughout, they were let down by one moment of sloppiness when Freddie Sears was afforded time and space on the edge of the box to lash home the opening goal on seven minutes.
In the midfield they were a joy to watch, their slick passing game at times bamboozling the hosts.
Where things broke down, once again, was in the final third. Aside from a James Baxendale shot in the opening minutes, Walker’s exertions remained largely limited. In contrast to some games this season the issue for the Saddlers – particularly in the first half – was not creating chances but taking them.
Craig Westcarr could have scored twice before Sears put the hosts in front, while Baxendale and Sam Mantom could count themselves unlucky with efforts which would have been goal of the season contenders had they not struck the bar and the post respectively.
When Andy Butler did manage to get a header on target from a Baxendale corner, it was hacked off the line by the alert Matt Taylor.
The second period saw the hosts sit back and for all their possession and probing, the Saddlers struggled to find a way past and it was only a moment of magic which saved them.
Sometimes the answer seems too obvious. Substitute Romaine Sawyers was certainly among those who decided not to shoot when he had the chance and while the dedication of Smith’s side to their passing ideals was admirable, at times it was also infuriating.
Much has been made of the need for a central striker and while Smith has continually re-iterated his faith in his current frontline, there is no doubt an Andy Rammell-type hitman would have scored a hatful in his team. Admittedly however, such players are not easy to find.
At Colchester, the central role fell on the shoulders fell on the shoulders of Craig Westcarr after Troy Hewitt was dropped to the bench and yet again he failed to fully convince.
There is no doubt the Saddlers look a better team when Westcarr is on the pitch, yet while he may have five goals to his name this term, his best work is often done out wide. A tendency to drop back means the Saddlers are often left without a focal point in attack and while Hewitt is more suited to the central role, he has failed to score since opening his account against Wolves in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
One big plus point for Smith was the performance of Julian Gray when he came on with 20 minutes to go. The winger, who had been limited to reserve appearances until Saturday, looked immediately up to speed and was eager to run at defenders with the ball at his feet. Ashley Hemmings, restored to the starting line-up, also showed signs of recapturing his form from the early weeks of the season during the second half as the Saddlers pushed for a leveller.
Ultimately, this was another point on the road for Smith’s men though its value will be judged on what they now do next Saturday at home to Stevenage.
It may be an unfair statistic - considering they have only played five times at the Banks’s this season – but the Saddlers are yet to win there since the opening day of the campaign and recent performances have lacked the fluidity of those away from home.
Graham Westley’s Stevenage looked a much more palatable opponent before they beat Brentford 2-1 on the road on Saturday. But if the Saddlers want to silence any doubts about their home form, it’s time they tasted victory again in WS1.
If games were won on corners, the Saddlers would have been home and hosed midway through the second half at Colchester. They won an incredible 15 of them during the course of the game – a statistic which sums up their dominance better than any other.
The first arrived in the opening seconds after Westcarr failed to take full advantage of a clever Mantom pass and saw his cross-cum-shot deflected behind. Westcarr also pushed a left-footed shot wide of the near post as the Saddlers carved the hosts open with ease, Baxendale testing Walker in between with a low shot from the edge of the box following a flowing passing move which started at the back.
That was all before Sears opened the scoring for the hosts, with their first attack. There seemed little danger when Marcus Bean picked up the ball on the right flank but his pass infield found Sears in acres of space 20 yards out and the former West Ham hitman had time to take a touch, before lashing a right-footed shot past Richard O’Donnell and into the corner.
Colchester enjoyed their best spell of the game and could have gone further ahead on the half hour had former Saddlers Jabo Ibehre hit the target after pouncing on an error by Paul Downing.
That miss sparked the Saddlers and Baxendale hit the bar with a snapshot, while Butler saw a header hacked off the line and Mantom came within inches of equalising in first half stoppage time but saw his delicate effort from 25 yards out hit the outside of the post.
The second half seemed to be played almost exclusively in Colchester’s half but the visitors were short on chances and luck.
When Gray hit over from eight yards out deep into stoppage time, that looked to be that. But then Hewitt was brought down with 20 seconds of the five additional minutes remaining and after much discussion Taylor stepped up to fire his free-kick over the wall and to Walker’s right, the ball hitting the top corner of the net to earn a point – the least Walsall deserved.