A soft 78th minute strike from Colchester midfielder Kevin McLeod looked to be condemning Norwich to a place back in the bottom three, before a Danny Granville own goal a minute from time gave Norwich a big point on their short travels.
A bitty, scrappy contest that wholly befitted an East Anglian derby of any colour or persuasion looked to be heading for a goalless draw before McLeod found all the space he needed deep in the City box to slam a Johnnie Jackson corner home.
A minute from time, however, and Gary Doherty rose high at the far post to nod a deep Lee Croft cross back across goal and in the ensuing melee, a combination of Granville and a lurking Jamie Cureton managed to bundle the ball home. Certainly Cureton celebrated longest and loudest, but the ball appeared to have crossed the line before the Us old-boy added to his unpopularity in Essex this evening.
The one surprise pre-match was the sight of Darren Huckerby on the bench; less surprising was the return of Darel Russell in centre midfield after his one match ban, while with Karren Brady proving a right madam over Martin Taylor's switch to Norfolk, so Roeder opted to give old pairing of Gary Doherty and Jason Shackell a whirl at the heart of that City defence.
Jamie Cureton predicted that he would be given a rough ride on his first return to Layer Road following his summer switch to Norfolk; he was disappointed – the ex-Us hero was roundly booed every time he went near the ball.
The first chance of any real note fell to Mark Yeates who stole in behind Mo Camara and having darted into the Canary box, blazed over. Camara almost immediately redeemed himself by stepping across Clive Platt as Chris Iwelumo's summer replacement tried to latch onto a neat flick from Teddy Sheringham.
City's lone early response was a standard free-kick from skipper Mark Fotheringham that dropped straight into Dean Gerken's hands. More promising was a break by Jimmy Smith seconds later that was ended abruptly by a thumping sliding tackle from a covering Adam Virgo.
In truth it was all a bit scrappy and messy – a typical East Anglian derby, in truth. It needed some fairly desperate City defending as Yeates again broke clear and Sheringham briefly threatened while Cureton would latch onto a big Matty Pattison clearance in the 24th minute. Driving in from the right-hand flank, with neither the angle or the support to play with the City striker ended up blazing high and over – much to the locals' delight.
Fotheringham delivered the ball of the half in the 28th minute to thread Pattison in behind Matt Connolly; the on-loan Arsenal youngster recovered his position just in time to block the ball out for a corner. Gerken comfortably gathered the ball. Neither keeper had, thus far, made a save of note.
Colchester were, probably, just shading it possession-wise; on occasion Norwich's defending had that familiar urgent and desperate air to it while at the other end, Norwich looked one, decent final ball away from creating themselves a chance. It was just that as the interval loomed, that same one, decent final ball continued to elude them.
The second-half opened in much the same way as the first – Cureton dragged no more than a half chance wide of a far upright having sprung the offside trap; Platt would dig a shot down and at David Marshall.
The latter was rather more stretched moments later when the same player connected with a rather firmer effort and forced the City No1 into a sharp, one-handed save high to his left. As if to prove the game could go either way at any moment, Cureton's quick feet left to Us defenders trailing; the third, however, blocked his shot wide with a last-ditch diving tackle.
Effort and energy, as ever of late, were not in question; final moments of killer quality were. Cue Huckerby's arrival just after the hour mark, to be followed swiftly by that of Dion Dublin for Ched Evans. Having clung in there and competed for the first hour, it was time to see if Norwich could rustle up a killer blow.
With his first run of note, Huckerby darted to the by-line, right full-back trailing. His final cross, however, scuttled just the wrong side of Cureton. To confirm his attacking intent, Lee Croft would replace Jimmy Smith on 69 minutes. The City chief was gunning for the win; shutting up shop was not on the night's agenda.
Huckerby did, indeed, skip brilliantly around Connolly only for the ball to elude a clutch of waiting City shirts. Roeder's best-laid plans were about to come unstuck in all-too familiar fashion 12 minutes from time.
Johnnie Jackson's low corner was one of those that should have long been cleared before Kevin McLeod stepped in unmarked to whip the ball up and beyond a stranded Marshall into the roof of the net. It was one of those goals that would, no doubt, prompt a furious post-match inquest from Roeder. Darel Russell's late header flush against a Us' upright merely confirmed the impression that luck was not with the visitors tonight.
Colchester United (4-4-2): Gerken; Granville, Connolly, Virgo, Baldwin; Izzet, Jackson, McLeod, Yeates; Sheringham (Guy, 75 mins), Platt. Subs (not used): Gutteridge, Baloch, Cousins, Elito.
Norwich City (4-4-2): Marshall; Otsemobor, Camara, Doherty, Shackell; Smith (Croft, 69 mins), Russell, Fotheringham, Pattison (Huckerby, 61 mins); Evans (Dublin, 63 mins), Cureton. Subs (not used): Arnold, Spillane.
Man of the Match: David Marshall.