Table toppers Greece proved too strong for Northern Ireland in a UEFA Nations League encounter in Athens tonight.
Jonny Evans won his 100th cap for Northern Ireland in the League C Group 2 match, however the side he captained in his landmark game lost 3-1 at the Georgios Kamaras stadium in the Greek capital.
Gus Poyet’s team, who finished their campaign with five wins from six games, enjoyed nearly 60% possession and had 15 attempts on goal compared to four from the boys in green and white.
It was one apiece at half-time, however goals in the 55th and 80th minutes gave the Greeks the deserved victory.
The first chance of the game at the home of Greece Super League 2 side Apollon Smyrnis saw Giorgos Masouras’s low shot drift wide of the post.
Northern Ireland midfielder Jordan Thompson had to leave the field after four minutes after receiving a blow to the head. He was replaced by George Saville.
On 13 minutes defender Tom Flanagan got in a good block as Greece captain Anastasios Bakasetas let fly from the edge of the area.
A minute later Greece opened the scoring. A cross into the area was dropped by Northern Ireland keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell after he went airborne and collided with Paddy McNair - and Dimitris Pelkas was on hand to stoop low and head in the loose ball.
Ian Baraclough’s charges, cheered on by over 1,000 travelling fans, drew level on 18 minutes when Steven Davis found Shayne Lavery with a pinpoint cross and the striker gleefully tucked the ball home from six yards.
Fellow striker Josh Magennis almost caught Greece keeper Odysseas Vlachodimos out with an audacious long range punt from inside his own half. It drifted just wide of the post.
As the half wore on the game got bogged down in the middle of the park. There were lots of misplaced passes from both teams and only a couple of half-chances were created.
At the start of the second half Evans and Flanagan combined superbly to stop Greek winger Giorgos Masouras in his tracks as he bore down on goal.
But on 55 minutes Greece carved Northern Ireland open to make it 2-1. Davis lost the ball outside the area and the Greeks quickly switched it to Masouras and he tucked it away from close range.
Greece began to turn the screw. Full-back George Baldock fired an effort over the bar from long range before Kostas Tsimikas put a header over the bar from six yards.
Peacock-Farrell clung on to Masouras’ cross-cum-shot from an angle as the Greeks went in search of another goal.
And on 80 minutes the home side got their third thanks to a screamer from Petras Mantalos. It was a sweet hit from 25 yards.
It was a disappointing end to Northern Ireland’s latest Nations League campaign following the 2-1 win over Kosovo in Belfast on Saturday.
However, Baraclough’s boys did finish third in the group on goal difference after the Kosovans hammered Cyprus 5-1 at home tonight to claim second place overall.
Northern Ireland won one, drew two and lost three in their third Nations League campaign.
Northern Ireland: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Conor Bradley, Jamal Lewis, Tom Flanagan, Jonny Evans (captain), Paddy McNair, Alistair McCann, Steven Davis, Shayne Lavery, Josh Magennis, Jordan Thompson. Substitutes: (used) George Saville, Gavin Whyte, Dion Charles, Shane Ferguson, Conor McMenamin; (unused) Conor Hazard, Luke Southwood, Corry Evans, Kofi Balmer, Patrick Lane, Shea Charles, Ciaron Brown.
Greece: Odysseas Vlachodimos, George Baldock, Kostas Tsimikas, Konstantinos Mavropanos, Pantelis Hatzidiakos, Anastasios Bakasetas (captain), Dimitris Kourbelis, Petros Mantalos, Giorgos Masouras, Fotios Ioannidis, Dimitris Pelkas. Substitutes: Alexandros Paschalakis (GK), Vassilis Barkas (GK), Giorgos Kiriakopoulos, Andreas Bouchalakis, Sotirios Alexandropoulos, Anastasios Douvikas, Lazaros Rota, Ioannis Papanikolaou, Taxiarchis Fountas, Dimitrios Goutas, Konstantinos Koulierakis, Tasos Chatzigiovanis.