Mark Perrow reports from Ashton Gate
Sam Baldock’s equaliser salvaged a second successive home draw but was not enough to inspire City to a first league victory of the new season.
Matthew Taylor’s first-half header threatened to secure a surprise victory for visitors Colchester, who held out until the 73rd minute in the face of constant second-half pressure before Baldock finally broke through.
Emmanuel-Thomas came close to providing the late winner the Ashton Gate crowd craved before Baldock looked certain to score his second only to head wide from close range at the death.
Sean O’Driscoll handed a first league start to Elliot Parish at the expense of Frank Fielding in goal, while Baldock returned in place of Stephen McLaughlin in the only change to the team who performed admirably in defeat at Southampton in the Capital One Cup.
It was City who made the more probing start, with Colchester left-back Luke Garbutt having to be alert to make a crucial defensive header with Scott Wagstaff poised to get on the end of Joe Bryan’s teasing cross.
It would prove an eventful start to the afternoon for Garbutt, who was perhaps a touch lucky to escape with a yellow card after savagely upending Brendan Moloney, before a skirmish on the halfway line had the on-loan Everton man skating even thinner ice.
Colchester’s first statement of intent arrived in the form of a whipping shot straight into the grasp of Parish courtesy of Freddie Sears – he of ‘ghost goal’ fame from his Crystal Palace days at Ashton Gate in 2009.
But the Robins were gradually improving as an attacking force. Moloney’s cross was glanced wide by Baldock before Emmanuel-Thomas redirected a Wagstaff delivery just off target.
And it was Wagstaff who injected some life into a subdued atmosphere with a driving run at the heart of the U’s defence, unleashing a powerful shot which fully extended Sam Walker in the visiting goal.
But having been undone by set-pieces on a handful of occasions already this season, City would surrender their clean sheet in familiar style.
When Garbutt’s delivery was headed back into his path, the corner taker produced a much improved ball on to the head of Taylor, who powered a header into the net beyond Parish’s dive.
Suddenly the hosts were shaken. Jabo Ibehre broke free twice in quick succession, first firing over before Aden Flint’s vital intervention prevented the striker from doubling his side’s unlikely lead.
City responded through a trademark Bryan burst to the byeline and cross for Baldock, who got in front of his man at the near post but sent his shot high into the East End.
Emmanuel-Thomas, so often the spark for O’Driscoll’s men, shifted the ball on to his right foot and shot straight at Walker, before two nutmegs created an opening on his stronger left side, this time extending Walker with a curling shot down to the keeper’s right.
Eager to add another dimension to his side’s attacking play, the head coach introduced Marlon Harewood shortly after the break.
The striker looked to have got away with a foul on Garbutt when he dispossessed the defender on the halfway line, but when he let fly from 20 yards his shot veered away from goal.
City were troubling Colchester with a bombardment of set-pieces, but attempts at goal were in short supply before Baldock struck the equaliser.
Substitute McLaughlin fizzed a low ball across the penalty area to pick out the goalscorer, who checked inside to find the net on his left foot.
Unlike against Shrewsbury last time out at home, City had plenty of time to find a winner.
Emmanuel-Thomas, still a threat, cut inside and tested Walker with a low drive before heading another McLaughlin cross over the bar.
At the other end, Garbutt provided a scare with a powerful low shot which Parish only half-saved before gathering at the second attempt with Ibehre lurking.
Emmanuel-Thomas hit a ferocious shot towards the top corner that Walker stood and watched disappear inches wide, before McLaughlin’s peach of a cross towards the back post was headed just off target by the stretching Baldock from no more than a couple of yards.