TOWN might have lost, but there were definite signs of the green shoots of a recovery in this battling performance at the windswept Weston Homes Community Stadium.
Up until the harsh 75th-minute sending off of Peter Clarke, they were comfortably keeping Colchester United at bay and doing the bulk of the attacking.
But with the captain back in the dressing room, the home side took advantage of their numerical superiority – and a slip-up by Joe Skarz.
The left-back allowed dangerman Kevin Lisbie to cut in from the touchline, and his cross was converted from close range by Kayode Odejayi in the 80th minute.
It was a third goal in two games for the Nigerian striker on loan from Barnsley and it condemned Lee Clark’s side to a third away defeat in a row.
Town, now ninth in League I, haven’t won in five outings, but if they can reproduce this kind of resilience and add a goal or two, victory can’t be far off.
Tomorrow’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy second-round tie at Chesterfield presents an opportunity to hit back.
But Town will have to do so without Clarke, who will serve a one-match suspension after walking for two bookable offences.
Yellow carded in the 65th-minute for a foal on Odejayi, the former Southend United man saw red after a pretty innocuous-looking mid-air collision with right-back John White.
Surrey referee Gavin Ward read the situation as illegal use of the arm, and Town were down to 10, with Andy Butler brought on and Danny Drinkwater sacrificed.
Butler was once of three demoted to the bench in the wake of Tuesday’s 2-1 loss at Walsall, with Anthony Pilkington and Jordan Rhodes also out of the starting XI.
In came Robbie Simpson, Nathan Clarke and James Berrett, who was handed the sweeping role in a 5-3-2 system.
All three responded to their call-ups with bright displays.
Simpson, playing alongside workaholic Theo Robinson, won a host of headers against giant centre-backs Magnus Okuonghae and Danny Batth.
Clarke, appearing for the first time since the Johnstone’s Paint first-round win at Rotherham, competed strongly against muscular frontmen Odejayi and Clive Platt.
And Berrett, making his first start and only his third appearance of the campaign, looked more than accomplished as home chances were kept to a minimum.
It’s just a shame Republic of Ireland Under 21 duties mean he will be unavailable when Exeter City come to the Galpharm on Saturday.
The gusting wind meant Colchester was always going to be a game of two halves, and Town stuck rigidly to their gameplan as Aidy Boothroyd’s men, playing with the elements in the first half, were continually frustrated.
Other than cut out a couple of awkward crosses, Smithies didn’t need to make a save of note as Odejayi, Platt, Lisbie and Kem Izzet all shot off target.
The best home effort came from defender Marc Tierney, who curled a left-foot shot just over after 29 minutes.Related content
Town’s only first-half chance fell to Simpson, whose 43rd-minute shot was blocked by Batth, but after the break, the visitors forced the pace, and while Kay shot wide and Jim Goodwin had an effort blocked by White, had anyone got on the end of Skarz’s teasing 53rd-minute cross, Town would surely have been ahead.
Lee Novak, on for Robinson after 63 minutes, added further impetus, and both he and Simpson might have levelled late on.