Northern Ireland’s slim World Cup qualification hopes were ended as a second-half collapse saw them lose 2-1 to Bulgaria in Sofia.
A Conor Washington goal in the 35th minute, awarded after a lengthy VAR review, gave Ian Baraclough’s men a deserved one-goal lead at half-time.
However, NI looked sluggish after the break and two fine strikes from Todor Nedelev won it for the hosts.
Northern Ireland drop down to fourth in Group C, with Bulgaria overtaking them.
Baraclough’s men went into the contest knowing that only a victory would keep alive their small hopes of finishing second in the group and securing the World Cup play-off place that it brings.
However, with Tuesday’s defeat coming three days after a controversial loss to Switzerland – who beat Lithuania in Group C’s other fixture on Tuesday – Northern Ireland are now nine points behind the second-placed Swiss with only two qualifiers left to play against Lithuania and Italy at in Belfast.
Washington’s goal for Northern Ireland came from a superb curling cross from the right by Paddy McNair that was met by Josh Magennis, whose header was too close to goalkeeper Ivan Karadzhov, who saved well.
The ball dropped to Washington who fired home the rebound but the goal was ruled out for offside before being awarded after a VAR review showed the striker to be onside.
Bulgaria started the second half strongly and Nedelev equalised with a fine left-foot strike in the 53rd minute and the same player hit the winner 10 minutes later, this time finding the top corner from 20 yards with an excellent left-foot curler.
More to follow.
- 4TsonevSubstituted forIlievat 45′minutes
- 8NedelevSubstituted forYankovat 73′minutes
- 14TsonevSubstituted forMalinovat 73′minutesBooked at 88mins
- 19IlievSubstituted forKrastevat 80′minutes
- 11DespodovSubstituted forBozhikovat 90+3′minutes
- 2BradleySubstituted forJonesat 68′minutes
- 4BallardBooked at 69minsSubstituted forMcGinnat 82′minutes
- 9WashingtonSubstituted forCharlesat 82′minutes
- 21MagennisSubstituted forDallasat 67′minutesBooked at 88mins
Match ends, Bulgaria 2, Northern Ireland 1.
Second Half ends, Bulgaria 2, Northern Ireland 1.
Offside, Bulgaria. Ilian Iliev tries a through ball, but Dominik Yankov is caught offside.
Substitution, Bulgaria. Vasil Bozhikov replaces Kiril Despodov.
Attempt missed. Kiril Despodov (Bulgaria) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Kaloyan Krastev.
Corner, Northern Ireland. Conceded by Ilian Iliev.
Attempt blocked. Stuart Dallas (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Jordan Jones.
Foul by Tom Flanagan (Northern Ireland).
Kaloyan Krastev (Bulgaria) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Kristiyan Malinov (Bulgaria) is shown the yellow card.
Stuart Dallas (Northern Ireland) is shown the yellow card.
Foul by Stuart Dallas (Northern Ireland).
Ivan Turitsov (Bulgaria) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt blocked. Shane Ferguson (Northern Ireland) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Patrick McNair (Northern Ireland) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Kristiyan Malinov (Bulgaria).
Attempt missed. Jordan Thompson (Northern Ireland) left footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the left from a direct free kick.
Dion Charles (Northern Ireland) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Ivan Turitsov (Bulgaria).
Attempt blocked. Jordan Thompson (Northern Ireland) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked.