It appears Northern Ireland will have to wait a little longer to appear at a first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup after Marko Pantelic capitalised on a Steve Davis error to earn Serbia victory at a lively and damp Windsor Park.
With three games remaining, the Serbs now lead Northern Ireland by two points ahead of their meeting with the Faroe Islands on Tuesday after a dominant performance saw them become just the second away team to win a qualifier at Windsor Park in five years.
Manager Nigel Worthington saw his team slip to fifth in Group C but is adamant his team’s qualification hopes are still alive and refused to condemn Davis.
“It’s a cruel way to lose a game and hugely disappointing for one of your top-class professionals in Steve Davis but it happens,” Worthington said.
“After all the good things Steve has done over the last four years for me and the team you give him all the support you can’’.
“But he’s a seasoned professional and he’ll deal with it and get ready to go again. It does make it more difficult but there’s still plenty to play for.” Jonny Evans and Corry Evans will now miss
Tuesday’s trip to Estonia, which Kyle Lafferty and Paddy McCourt will also miss due to calf injuries that kept them out last night, while Worthington is hoping that Sammy Clingan can recover from illness.
Serbia dominated the opening period, with Branislav Ivanovic going close with a lob, Milan Jovanovic seeing a shot bounce over off the bar before Marko Pantelic’s chip flew just over.