Northern Ireland’s first game in the third edition of the UEFA Nations League saw them suffer a disappointing 1-0 defeat against Greece.
The boys in green and white are still waiting for their first win in the competition after Gus Poyet’s team grabbed all three points in a League C Group 2 encounter in Belfast thanks to a goal from captain Tasos Bakasetas.
Greece, the seconds seeds in the group, largely bossed the game for 60 minutes against the top seeds before the introduction of experienced campaigners Kyle Lafferty and Niall McGinn gave Northern Ireland fresh impetus.
However, despite producing some flowing football, they could not break down a resolute Greek defence in the final half-hour.
Defences were on top in the early exchanges as both teams eased their way into what was a pretty scrappy game at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.
The first clearcut chance came on 18 minutes when Northern Ireland winger Gavin Whyte twisted and turned past his marker and tested Greece keeper Odisseas Vlachodimos with a low drive.
Then Greece midfielder Andreas Bouchalakis had a tame effort before striker Giorgios Giakoumakis rose well to power a header towards goal which Northern Ireland keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell clutched confidently.
Paddy Lane whipped in a decent ball down the left, however it evaded his team-mates.
Greece, who had enjoyed the bulk of the possession in the opening half-hour, took the lead in the 36th minute. Dimitris Limnios skipped past Lane and raced forward before feeding Bakasetas and he scored with a powerful low drive into the bottom corner.
Just before half-time Kostas Tsimikas robbed Conor Bradley to set up a counter-attack. The ball was eventually slipped to Lazaros Rota who blasted the ball over the top.
Northern Ireland, who had been lacklustre in the first half, attempted to up the tempo after the break, however they were initially stifled by a rugged Greek defence.
And Greece could have had a second. Limnios whipped in a lovely cross which just evaded Giakoumakis as he bore down on goal.
The noise level in the stadium rose as the ball bobbled around the Greece area. George Saville had a couple of shots blocked as the visitors stood strong.
The introduction of Lafferty and McGinn just after the hour mark brought a massive cheer from the home crowd. And it lifted the whole team.
A Lafferty knock-down was flicked on by Saville to McGinn. The winger let fly, however his effort was straight at the Greek keeper. Minutes later Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis drove a shot over the bar.
A Lane cross was met by substitute Dion Charles but he screwed his shot wide.
In the 84th minute Lafferty came within inches of grabbing an equaliser. He stepped up to take a free-kick after Charles was brought down just outside the area. The striker’s effort whizzed just past the upright.
Northern Ireland did not win a game in the two previous editions of the Nations League. They will now hope to put that right when they travel to Cyprus for a UNL match on Sunday.
Part three of a quadruple header in the Nations League this month will see them take on Kosovo in Pristina next Thursday before they return to Belfast to face the Cypriots on Sunday 12 June.
Northern Ireland: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Conor Bradley, Paddy Lane, Daniel Ballard, Jonny Evans, Paddy McNair, George Saville, Steven Davis (captain), Shayne Lavery, Alistair McCann, Gavin Whyte. Substitutes: (used) Kyle Lafferty, Niall McGinn, Dion Charles, Shea Charles, Trai Hume; (not used) Luke Southwood, Trevor Carson, Trai Hume, Alfie McCalmont, Conor McMenamin, Liam Donnelly, Shea Charles, Charlie McCann, Ciaron Brown.
Greece: Odisseas Vlachodimos, Lazaros Rota, Kostas Tsimikas, Konstantinos Mavroponas, Pantelis Hatzidiakos, Andreas Bouchalakis, Manolis Siopis, Tasos Bakasetas (captain), Dimitris Limnios, Giorgios Giakoumakis, Petros Mantalos. Substitutes: Alexandros Paschalakis (GK), Georgios Athanasiadis (GK), George Baldock, Georgios Tzavellas, Dimitrios Kourbelis, Anastasios Chatzigiovanis, Sotirios Alexandropoulos, Anastasios Douvikas, Christos Tzolis, Ionnais Papanikolaou, Evangelos Pavlidis, Dimitrios Giannoulis.