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EOIN McKeown stepped off the bench to score a late equaliser as Colchester United opened their Checkatrade Trophy campaign with a 2-2 draw against Reading Under-21s.

The subsequent penalty shootout was won by Colchester as, having seen the first 11 attempts converted, Rene Gilmartin saved from Joel Rollinson to earn the U’s the extra bonus point.

The game was played in front of a crowd of just 527 – their lowest-ever attendance as a Football League club – as it was clear that this stage of the competition had not excited fans any more than it did last year.

However, those who came were treated to an open and flowing game that was typified by Colchester dominating possession and Reading being dangerous on the break.

Colchester head coach John McGreal made four changes from the side that started the U’s League Two win against Forest Green Rovers on Saturday.

Rene Gilmartin came in to make his U’s debut in goal as Sam Walker moved to the bench, while there was also a first start for Diaz Wright as he joined brother Drey in the side.

Tariq Issa and Cameron James were the other incoming players, while Frankie Kent and Tom Lapslie were on the bench and Kyel Reid was rested.

Despite the changes, though, it was from a familiar source that an opening goal came in just the fifth minute.

It had been a lively start by both sides, but the U’s showed a killer touch as Szmodics capitalised when a loose ball came to him high up the pitch.

Kane Vincent-Young’s cross-field ball was cut out by Reading's Tom Holmes but the ball fell to Szmodics, who showed great skill to go round a defender and drill a low shot into the net It was just the start that Colchester wanted, although Reading weren’t dissuaded.

Their advanture paid off in the 19th minute when Ben House raced clear and was clinical with a low finish from an angle that gave Gilmartin no chance in the U’s goal.

Having got the equaliser, Reading spent the majority of the rest of the half defending their own goal as the U’s dominated possession.

However they were unable to force things enough to breakthrough again.

Instead, the break came at the other end and it was one that came courtesy of a bad mistake by Tom Eastman.

The Us defender got caught in two minds what to do with a ball as he looked to play out from the back, but ended up doing nothing other than gifting possession to House, who raced clear.

And the Reading man was every bit as clinical with his finish as he was the first time as the visitors were handed the half-time lead on a plate.

Colchester resumed by pressing for an equaliser and twice went close when Mikael Mandron shots were cleared off the line by Tyler Frost as Reading stayed disciplined in defence.

Colchester kept dominating possession as the half wore on, but the result was the same with Reading staying tight at the back to frustrate their hosts.

That was until the 85th minute when the U’s finally broke through as substitute McKeown prodded the ball in from close range for his first goal for the U’s to earn them the draw.