Gillingham progress to the next round of the JPT following a dramatic match at Weston Homes Community StadiumStuart Nelson proved to be the comeback King on his Gills return after scoring the winning penalty in a dramatic shoot-out in his 100th game for the club.
The Gills number one, playing for the first time since suffering ligament damage to his thumb against MK Dons, saved two spot kicks and then scored the decisive penalty after the scores were locked at 3-3 after 90 minutes.
Gills were behind at the break but produced a brilliant turnaround to go 3-2 up, before a late goal from Freddie Sears ensured penalties would be needed.
Peter Taylor made seven changes to the side that lost at Notts County with only Joe Martin, Jake Hessenthaler, Jermaine McGlashan and Brennan Dickenson keeping their places in the team.
Nelson made his long awaited return in goal with Callum Davies celebrating a new one year deal by being named Captain for the second successive JPT game.
Antonio German started up front with Bradley Dack, Amine Linganzi and Matt Fish all named in the starting XI.
Colchester fielded former Gills loanee Elliott Hewitt in their team with Sean Clohessy also included.
David Wright was named on the bench, the former Crystal Palace man having also endured a short spell at MEMS Priestfield Stadium.
Colchester enjoyed more of the possession in the opening quarter of an hour – Gavin Massey forcing a decent save from Nelson before Sanchez Watt struck a left foot shot well over the crossbar.
On 17 minutes Colchester took the lead in great style – Watt was looking for a penalty following a foul by Hessenthaler; the ball broke free for Drey Wright who lined up a shot from 30 yards.
He struck it beautifully and Nelson was unable to get anything on it, the ball clipping the underside of the bar before hitting the back of the net.
However the lead lasted no more than seven minutes, Joe Martin producing a good ball on the left wing, Dickenson hooked on to the pass and suddenly found himself one on one with Sam Walker.
The keeper came out to narrow the gap but Dickenson calmly slotted it past the number one and into the opposite corner.
The hosts nearly regained their advantage on the half hour mark, a George Moncur free kick heading for the top corner had it not been for the outstretched palms of Nelson who forced the effort wide for a corner before Leon Legge did well to earn a goal kick.
On 39 minutes Colchester were awarded a slightly dubious penalty when Davies was judged to have brought down Healey inside the area.
Despite a number of protestations from the Gills squad the decision stood; Watt was the man entrusted to take it and he sent Nelson the wrong way to restore the hosts advantage.
Colchester bossed possession just before the break, a shot by Massey being the last meaningful action before the interval.
The second half started quietly with neither side dominating play – Massey having a low shot saved by Nelson before a through ball by Hessenthaler to Dack was well dealt with by the Colchester defence.
However 10 minutes into the half and it was Gillingham asking all the questions and they took advantage of their possession on 55 minutes.
McGlashan found some space to work with on the right hand side, he spotted the run of Dack towards the front post and played a delightful ball in to the midfielder who made no mistake with the finish.
The ball was slightly behind Dack but he adjusted his body well and Walker failed to get anything on the low effort which found its way into the corner.
With the scores level both sides went in search of a potential winner, and Gillingham completed a brilliant turnaround on 74 minutes.
Amine Linganzi had a shot from just outside the box blocked, he surprised everyone by taking a touch inside towards the byline.
He fired an effort across goal and German got a perfectly weighted touch on the ball to guide it home and put the visitors ahead.
He was subbed immediately with Aaron Millbank replacing him, but there was still time for more drama towards the end of the game.
On 87 minutes Freddie Sears, on as a late sub, drilled home a powerful shot following a cross from the right wing and brought the scores level with just a few minutes left to play.
Despite late pressure Gillingham resisted and it meant a penalty shoot-out was required to determine the winner.
Nelson stepped up as number four, having saved two previous spot kicks, to put the visitors through to the next round.
Freddie Sears – SCORED
Bradley Dack – SCORED
George Moncur – SAVED
Matt Fish – SCORED
Tom Eastman – SAVED
Jake Hess – SCORED
Sean Clohessy – SCORED
Stuart Nelson - SCORED
F/T: 3-3 (2-4 Pens)
Colchester: Walker, Eastmond, Watt, Drey Wright, Eastman, Clohessy, Massey (Szmodics 82), Moncur, Kent (David Wright HT), Healey (Sears 70), Hewitt.
Unused subs: Lewington, Gordon.
Gills: Nelson, Fish, Legge, Davies, Martin (Hoyte 76), Hessenthaler, Linganzi, Dack, McGlashan, Dickenson, German (Millbank 76).
Unused subs: G Morris, Hare, McKain
Referee: Mr M Bull