John McGreal has “thrown the gauntlet down” to his Colchester United players to transfer their spirited display against Aston Villa into their league form.

The U’s return to League Two action tomorrow on the back of an encouraging Carabao Cup first-round display against Championship opposition, on Wednesday night.

Colchester lost the tie 2-1 but earned plenty of praise for their enterprising performance against Steve Bruce’s side, in front of a televised audience of millions.

And ahead of the visit of Stevenage tomorrow, U’s head coach McGreal wants to see them transfer such qualities into their League Two programme.

McGreal said: “We’ve thrown the gauntlet down to the boys –we want that kind of level of performance from all of the boys we put in.

“It was a great occasion and a great game for us.

“The boys put in a good show even though we lost the game so hopefully we can carry that momentum that we gained and the rapport we had with the fans into the Stevenage game and take it forward.

“We got something going at home last year with the fans and the connection with the players.

“It was great to have that first home game against a good Villa team and to try and get that momentum we had at the end of last year.”

McGreal said Colchester’s performance against Villa was a good response to their disappointing 3-1 defeat at Accrington Stanley, last weekend.

The U’s boss admitted after the opening-day loss at the Wham Stadium that his side had fallen below the standards they had set themselves.

But McGreal felt that pride was restored against Villa and is now determined to see them triumph in their opening League Two home game of the campaign.

McGreal said: “I’m really pleased with the Villa performance and the good thing was bouncing back after Saturday (and the defeat at Accrington).

"It was great to see the boys bounce back and the fans on our side, as we know they are.

“I think we showed a togetherness tonight, even after their first goal had gone in which came out of nothing.

“We bounced back straight away and showed a bit of character but then it went to 2-0 and we could have crumbled.

“But we bounced back again and I’m really proud of the players.

“I think the fans were on their feet at times and it was one of those games.

“We were in the game at 2-1 and a little bit of lady luck late on might have given us a chance.

“It did but we didn’t take it but I was thoroughly pleased with the performance.

“We missed a penalty but that happens and we had opportunities after that when we got into good areas.

“It was great experience and a great game to watch – we can take a lot of heart and confidence out of the performance.”