Colchester Rugby Club's first-half loss of form cost them the game after they were beaten 26-20 by fellow London League division one north high-fliers Eton Manor.
Manor scored 16 unanswered points in the first 30 minutes before Colchester rallied to play attacking rugby and almost sneak a win.
Manor now move into third place behind Colchester, a victory due to a competitive team performance but in particular to centre Ben Thomas who scored 21 points.
The unavailability of several experienced players forced a rearranged Colchester centre pairing as Brett Cutbush moved from half-back to three-quarter for his first senior game, joining Damien Brambley at centre.
Thomas exploited the inexperienced partnership to bag two tries before the Colchester back-line gelled.
Colchester suffered a spate of early missed tackles, rash passes and conceded penalties to gift Manor position and points.
Yet Colchester almost got off to a scoring start, scrum-half Sam Whitlam’s kick was taken over the line by an Eton Manor defender who was being hounded by Colchester number eight Dan Whiteman.
Manor won the resultant scrum, kicked upfield, stole lineout ball and Thomas broke two despairing tackles to set up a platform from which recycled ball enabled him to finish the move he started with a try.
Manor’s lead was increased by Thomas’ penalty kick after Colchester’s backs were penalised for offside.
Thomas followed by breaking more midfield tackles and running in another try from open play.
Colchester not releasing the ball in the tackle gifted Thomas an easy second penalty.
Colchester belatedly remembered how to play rugby. Dan Whiteman stole a line-out throw, Ollie Pickett made ground and recycled ball was whipped along the back-line where skipper James Crozier joined from full-back to race and twist his way over for a try.
Colchester were 16-5 down at half-time but improved their performance in the second half - but not before they gifted their hosts another three points with a penalty in front of the posts for offside.
Relentless Colchester pressure led to Eton Manor conceding a string of penalties.
Crozier linked with wing Simon Parkinson to close to their opponent’s try-line and lock Liam Pickett barged his way over for Colchester’s deserved second try, Crozier converting.
Maintaining pressure, Cutbush’s quick tap-penalty released Whiteman who raced in for a try.
Brambley’s strong running then led to Eton Manor conceding another penalty, for tackler-not-releasing.
Crozier kicked Colchester into a 20-19 lead with only minutes to play.
Having played their way in front, Colchester eased off.
A poor clearance kick straight to touch gifted Eton Manor an attacking platform from which full-back Chris Jones joined the line to race in for a try. Thomas converted to retake the lead and the win Eton Manor deserved on the balance of play.