A spirited display after the early dismissal of Drew Talbot saw Chesterfield on the verge of all three points, but an astonishing final 20 minutes saw Colchester launch a comeback for a share of the spoils.
The Spireites responded excellently to Talbot’s 13th minute dismissal through a Dan Jones free kick before Gavin Massey levelled for the visitors.
Lee Novak then netted his first for the Spireites in the second half before captain Sam Morsy put his side two in front, only for a remarkable comeback from a battling Colchester side saw George Moncur offer a headed lifeline before Charlie Raglan put through his own goal in the dying embers of the five additional minutes.
A breathtaking final 20 minutes left the Proact in a state shock for a second consecutive Saturday, with Colchester stealing a point after a gritty Chesterfield performance and world class saves from Tommy Lee had looked to ensure the Spireites all three points.
U’s boss Tony Humes altered his side with three changes in their push for a first league win of the season and handed debuts to forward Marvin Sordell and on loan Preston stopper Jamie Jones.
Jones was soon called into action on five minutes and produced a comfortable save from Gboly Ariyibi who returned from international duty, after the winger was found by an acute chip forward by Novak.
The Spireites’ early pressure continued and Novak and Jones produced a neat interchange on the left for the latter to deliver a threatening cross, but Ariyibi could not capitalise at the back post as the ball was cleared to safety.
Colchester began to grow in the game and recorded a first opportunity as winger Massey burst forward down the left flank with the Spireites stretched at the back.
The former Watford man found Alex Gilbey breaking into the box with a well-timed pass, but the visiting captain’s composed effort across the face of goal prompted an excellent save from Lee, who tipped round the post on 13 minutes. Only moments later the U’s were again high up the pitch with winger Callum Harriot showcasing his pace down the left wing.
Sordell made a run on the edge of the box and tangled with Talbot who was the last man, leaving the referee to adjudge the incident as a denial of a goal scoring opportunity and send off the right back after only 13 minutes.
Chesterfield looked to quickly recover from such an early setback as the end to end nature of the first half continued. A long ball forward from Ian Evatt found Novak beat the offside trap with the ‘keeper off his line, but the on-loan Birmingham striker’s attempted lob rose just over the bar.
Saunders opted for 17-year-old loanee Jack Fitzwater to fill the vacant right back position with Ariybi the victim of Talbot’s red card on 19 minutes.
Only moments into his Football League debut, Fitzwater was fouled prompting a free kick on the right flank. Jones delivered an inviting set piece with his left foot but neither a blue nor orange shirt could connect with the delivery and the ball nestled in at the back post for Jones’ first goal for the club.
After the perfect response to going a man light, the Spireites squandered their lead as Colchester drew level through Massey seven minutes later when the winger found himself in acres of space at the back post to convert Harriot’s low cross beyond Lee.
Chesterfield were fortunate to see out an eventful first half with the score level as Harriott stabbed at an effort from the edge of the box which looped at goal, with only the base of the post denying Colchester a half time lead.
The U’s continued to threaten at the start of the second half with Gilbey seeing an effort from distance sail just wide of the post before Sordell missed a glorious opportunity to convert Massey’s cross from the right, somehow fumbling the ball wide of an open goal.
The Spireites were able to absorb sustained Colchester pressure with Sordell and Harriott continuing to test Lee with efforts from range.
On 63 minutes O’Shea danced infield from the right touch line and his deflected cross found Gardner at the far post who diverted the ball back across goal and Novak tapped home to hand the Spireites the lead, with his first goal for the club.
A minute later Lee was again called into action to deny Sordell with a second incredible save of the game, somehow reacting to get a hand to the former Burnley marksman’s header from close range.
Chesterfield’s finely tuned attacked play again shone ten minutes later when O’Shea broke forward with an electric turn of pace to feed Ollie Banks to the byline, his cross was met on the volley by Sam Morsy who calmly finished from six yards to hand the Spireites a third.
As soon as the ten men of Chesterfied looked comfortable with a two goal lead, the threat from Colchester’s flanks reignited into life with Harriott, again operating right on the last whisker of the offside trap, producing a cross for substitute Moncur to head a looped effort over Lee and into the back of the net.
Novak made way for Byron Harrison to a standing ovation after an impressive display as the lone front man on 83 minutes and the substitute had a sight of goal immediately. Morsy drove forward and played in the former Cheltenham Town man but his effort was parried by Jones.
Goalscorer Massey offered Colchester a last gasp chance from the byline with an inviting low cross but Gilbey’s fluffed effort sailed wide of the upright.
Referee Ian Williamson awarded five minutes of added time and Colchester took their chance to unbelievably draw level for a second time.
A wild goalmouth scramble saw Colchester hit the bar before the ball was cleared for the ever threatening Harriott to deliver a cross from the left which Raglan could only turn into his own goal.
Chesterfield: Lee (gk) - Jones, Evatt, Raglan, Talbot - Morsy (c), Banks, Gardner (Donohue87'), Ariyibi (Fitzwater 19'), O'Shea - Novak (Harrison 83')
Colchester United: Jones (gk), Garvan, Briggs (Bonne 88'), Edwards (Moncur 28'), Elokobi, Gilbey (c), Massey, Vincent-Young, Harriott, Sordell