TOWN missed a golden late opportunity and had a strong penalty appeal turned down – but had an escape when Colchester created the best opportunity of an entertaining game.
Just 90 seconds of normal time remained when Danny Cadamarteri broke down the left and carved open the home defence with a great pass to Jon Worthington.
When the midfielder in turn found Gary Roberts and the winger crossed, any kind of clean connection from Andy Booth would surely have sent the ball across the line.
Instead goalkeeper Dean Gerken was able to smother as the striker, just six yards out, was unable to finish, and home fans in a 5,340 crowd breathed again.
They had also been on the edge of their seats in the 63rd minute, when during a furious goalmouth scramble, Johnnie Jackson appeared to stop Worthington’s low goalbound shot with his hands.
Roberts and Jim Goodwin had follow-up efforts blocked, but the 500 Town fans behind the goal were still berating referee Rob Shoebridge as Colchester counter-attacked, with Clive Platt shooting over from Jackson’s cross.
Derbyshire official Shoebridge, it later emerged, judged the handball to be accidental, denying Town the opportunity to become the first side to score in a competitive game at the new 10,000-capacity Weston Homes Community Stadium.
Back in January 2007, Town had rolled over meekly in going down 3-0 to Doncaster Rovers in the first match at the Keepmoat Stadium.
Current manager Stan Ternent was determined his team wouldn’t be what he termed “proverbial lambs to the slaughter” at Colchester’s neat new home, and they did a good job containing a side who were playing Championship football last season.
With centre-backs Chris Lucketti and Andy Butler again impressive, the threat of the Essex club’s £400,000 record signing Steven Gillespie was negated to the degree that the ex-Cheltenham man was substituted on 68 minutes.
Colchester did possess awkward customers in rangy former Rochdale forward Platt and tricky winger Mark Yeates.
Yeates gave Robbie Williams, preferred to David Unsworth after an impressive Carling Cup performance against Bradford City, a testing afternoon, and some would say the left-back was lucky not to be shown a red card when he hauled back the ex-Tottenham trainee as he broke down the right in the 41st minute.
And it was Yeates who came closest to a goal for either side, his well-struck 29th-minute free-kick, awarded for a foul by Jim Goodwin on Jackson, deceiving goalkeeper Matt Glennon but fortunately for Town, landing on top of the bar rather than under it.
After struggling to lay a foot on the ball during the opening two minutes, Town had created the first opportunity, Andy Holdsworth shooting over after Booth, Roberts and Cadamarteri all got touches to Michael Flynn’s throw.
Glennon comfortably saved Platt’s ninth-minute shot, then Booth, teed up by Cadamarteri, sent a dipping volley just over before skipper Lucketti made a tremendous block tackle on John White after the right-back played a slick one-two with Gillespie in the 23rd minute.
After their free-kick escape, Cadamarteri clattered a 31st-minute attempt wide after Booth headed on Holdsworth’s long ball.
There were fewer chances in the second half, although Platt had a low angled shot held by Glennon in the 77th minute before Gerken saved a Booth header in the 80th.
Gillespie’s replacement Scott Vernon got into a good position in the 83rd minute, but glanced his header from fellow substitute Medy Elito’s cross well wide, and the same player was unable to get any real power behind a stoppage-time shot.