Reds produced arguably the best performance of Gabriele Cioffi’s reign as they stunned promotion-chasing Colchester thanks to two second-half goals from Luke Gambin.
What made it even more memorable was that Reds played for more than an hour with ten men after Joe McNerney was shown a controversial straight red card for bringing down Harry Pell in the 31st minute.
Colchester predictably dominated possession but Reds took the lead on the hour when Gambin produced a brilliant finish from the left-hand corner of the box.
Then in stoppage time, after Colchester had lost Frankie Kent to a second yellow card to make it ten a side, Gambin drilled the resultant free kick into the bottom corner and Reds had the ideal start to 2019.
While Gambin took the plaudits - and rightly so - there was much to commend elsewhere. A second successive clean sheet, effective midfield performances from Panutche Camara and Reece Grego-Cox and the selfless running up front by Dominic Poleon. Glenn Morris was so well protected it is hard to remember him making a save of note in the second period.
Morris had been the busier keeper in the first half, with Reds happy to concede possession even before they went down to ten men and hit Colchester on the counter.
They were first to threaten in the ninth minute when good work by Poleon allowed Camara to get in a shot from the right which hit the side netting.
Morris made a comfortable save from Sammie Szmodics’ header before denying Luke Norris, who had capitalised when Reds gave the ball away in midfield only to hit his effort too close to the keeper.
Morris needed treatment after being clattered by Frank Nouble but the temperature really rose when Pell tried to break forward and was sent spinning by McNerney’s challenge. Mr Davies reached straight for his red card after allowing play to continue for a few moments.
Colchester not surprisingly dominated territory in the rest of the half but Morris was only tested further by a low drive from Pell which he got fully behind.
Man of the match Mark Connolly was booked just before the break and not for the first time this season the referee left the pitch at half-time to a chorus of boos.
There was no change to the pattern of play for the first 15 minutes of the second period, with Kent booked for a foul on Gambin before the Luton loanee raised the roof with a stunning strike on 61 minutes.
He picked the ball up on halfway, ran towards the left-hand corner of the box before hitting a low right-foot shot past four defenders and keeper Rene Gilmartin and inside the far post.
Gambin clearly fancied his chances and a curler from the other side of the box five minutes later wasn’t too far off target.
Dannie Bulman came on for Josh Payne with 12 minutes to go and by then Reds had settled for what they had. Colchester continued to dominate possession but apart from an effort from Nouble which he curled just wide of the far post, they struggled to break down a resolute home defence.
And in stoppage time Gambin sealed an outstanding win. Colchester were reduced to ten men when Kent picked up his second yellow for a foul in the D on Camara, who had broken away from the halfway line.
Gambin drilled the resultant free kick low through the wall and past Gilmartin and Reds were on their way to three welcome points.
Reds: Morris; Sesay, Francomb, Connolly, McNerney, Doherty; Grego-Cox, Camara, Payne (Bulman 78), Gambin, Poleon. Unused subs: Mersin, Nathaniel-George, Maguire, Allarakhia, N’Gala.
Attendance: 2765 (456 Colchester)