Northern Ireland narrowly lost to Slovenia in a tight contest in Belfast tonight.
A sweetly struck free-kick in the fourth minute was enough to earn the visitors a 1-0 victory in the UEFA Euro 2024 qualifier at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.
Following the 3-0 win against San Marino in Group H on Saturday, Northern Ireland were keen to build momentum.
They competed well against the Slovenians throughout, however they could not muster an equaliser after the visitors grabbed the early lead.
Northern Ireland played for a third of the contest with 10 players after Shea Charles was sent off just before the hour mark for a second bookable offence.
Boss Michael O’Neill gave debuts to defender Eoin Toal and midfielder Brad Lyons and both did well.
Just like the reverse fixture in Ljubljana last month, Northern Ireland saw plenty of the ball across the 90-plus minutes and created some decent chances.
Slovenia scored with their first opportunity, however. In the fourth minute the ref awarded the visitors a free-kick on the edge of the area after Jamal Lewis clipped striker Benjamin Sesko - and midfielder Adam Cerin stepped up to curl the free-kick into the top corner off the inside of the post. It was a lovely strike.
Both teams huffed and puffed before Paul Smyth forced a corner in the 12th minute. Jordan Thompson swung the ball in and Slovenia captain and keeper Jan Oblak punched it clear. Shea Charles met the clearance and fired in a shot from the edge of the area which was goal-bound but cannoned off a Slovenian defender.
Northern Ireland continued to press. Smyth was stopped in his tracks as he sped towards goal five minutes later. The ball was cleared for a throw-in. Smyth took it and his long throw created confusion in the Slovenia defence, with the ball eventually falling to Lewis who steered a shot wide.
Bailey Peacock-Farrell got down well to keep out a Petar Stojanovic strike before Slovenia thought they had doubled their lead around the half-hour mark. Sesko stroked the ball home just outside the six-yard box after the home defence failed to clear their lines, however VAR deemed there had been an offside in the build-up.
Lyons charged forward down the right and was bundled over by Slovenia midfielder Timi Elsnik, who received a yellow card.
Shea Charles swung in the free-kick, which was cleared, however Northern Ireland captain Jonny Evans fell awkwardly as he attempted to head the ball, although he was able to carry on following treatment.
Lewis battled hard for the ball down the left and produced a looping cross which Oblak gathered as Josh Magennis tussled for it with two defenders.
The towering Oblak gathered well again as substitute Conor Washington tried to get on the end of a deflected Smyth cross just after the break.
Shea Charles received his marching orders in the 59th minute after receiving a second yellow card. His first yellow came in the first half as he protested against the free-kick which led to Slovenia’s goal. His second yellow was shown for a late challenge on Slovenia striker Andraz Sporar.
Despite going down to 10 men, Northern Ireland continued to press. A slick exchange of passes between Washington and fellow sub Isaac Price saw the latter tee up another sub, George Saville, and his low shot was saved well by Oblak.
Following a move involving Saville and Price, Lewis played a clever back heel flick to another substitute, Dion Charles, in the 78th minute but the striker fired wide from 12 yards.
Then Lyons and Washington combined to set up Saville again, however he blasted his shot straight at Oblak.
Following the win Slovenia are now within touching distance of reaching the Euros in Germany next summer.
Northern Ireland: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Trai Hume, Jamal Lewis, Eoin Toal, Jonny Evans (captain), Shea Charles, Paul Smyth, Brad Lyons, Josh Magennis, Dale Taylor, Jordan Thompson.
Substitutes: (used) Conor Washington, George Saville, Isaac Price, Dion Charles, Conor McMenamin; (unused) Conor Hazard, Luke Southwood, Michael Forbes, Matthew Kennedy, Callum Marshall, Paddy Lane, Brodie Spencer.
Slovenia: Jan Oblak (captain), Zan Karnicnik, Erik Janza, Miha Blazic, Jaka Bijol, Timi Elsnik, Adam Cerin, Petar Stojanovic, Andraz Sporar, Benjamin Sesko, Jan Mlakar.
Substitutes: Vid Belec (GK), Martin Turk (GK), Jure Balkovec, Jon Stankovic, Benjamin Verbic, Sandi Lovric, Miha Zajc, Jasmin Kurtic, Zan Vipotnik, Zan Celar, Luka Zahovic, Vanja Drkusic.