Northern Ireland lost out 1-0 away to Kazakhstan in a UEFA Euro 2024 qualifier in Astana this evening.
The visitors created twice as many chances as Kazakhstan in what was often a bruising and physical Qualifying Group H encounter - and enjoyed 55% of the possession - but could not find a way through a resolute home defence once the Kazakhs had taken the lead in the 27th minute through Maxim Samorodov.
Northern Ireland showed three changes from the starting line-up against Slovenia on Thursday – and four from the 11 that started against Kazakhstan in Belfast back in June.
Kazakhstan entered the fray with just one change from the 11 who started in the 1-0 away win against Northern Ireland in early summer.
George Saville had a strike from distance in the second minute in front of 28,500 exuberant fans at the Astana Arena but it drifted well wide of the target.
The next meaningful action in the Kazakhstan capital saw Daniel Ballard head a Shea Charles free-kick over the top before Kazakhstan midfielder Baktiyor Zainutdinov drilled a low shot wide of the target.
A Conor McMenamin cross was comfortably plucked out of the air by Kazakhstan keeper Igor Shatskiy as Northern Ireland pushed forward.
Trai Hume stopped wing-back Yerkin Tapalov in his tracks as the home side launched a rapid counter-attack.
Kazakhstan took the lead when striker Samorodov received a pass from Abzal Beysebekov just outside the area, gave Ballard the slip and smashed the ball into the bottom corner past Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
McMenamin was thwarted by a fine block 20 yards out as Northern Ireland immediately went in search of a goal.
Ballard headed a corner over the top before Northern Ireland broke quickly down the left and carved out a great opening that could have resulted in an equaliser.
Conor Washington found the onrushing Matty Kennedy and he poked the ball across the face of goal where McMenamin looked set to pounce a yard out, however Samorodov managed to nip in ahead of him and scoop the ball away before it was fully cleared.
Towards the end of the half Saville fired a shot wide from distance as the visitors pushed forward once again.
Paul Smyth and Jordan Thompson were introduced from the bench after the break and at the start of the second half a Washingston snapshot was pushed out by Shatskiy.
A dangerous Smyth delivery into the area was headed clear by defender Marat Bystrov as Ali McCann battled to get on the end of it. Then Shea Charles shot straight at Shatskiy.
Smyth played a neat one-two with Washington and fired in a low cross which was cleared before Washington had a shot blocked inside the area. Substitute Jordan Jones fired in a low cross which was comfortably collected by Shatskiy.
On 80 minutes Peacock-Farrell produced an excellent save to keep out a blistering shot from Kazakhstan captain Ashkat Tagybergen as the game opened up in the closing stages.
Northern Ireland, who looked solid defensively for most of the match, huffed and puffed after that but could not carve out a clearcut opening.
Deep into added time the ball fell to Ballard in the opposition box but he could not get any purchase on his shot and the Kazakhs cleared their lines.
Kazakhstan: Igor Shatskiy, Yerkin Tapalov, Yan Vorogovskiy, Marat Bystrov, Alexandr Marochkin, Nuraly Alip, Baktiyor Zainutdinov, Abzal Beysebekov, Maxim Samorodov, Ashkat Tagybergen (captain), Ramazan Orazov.
Substitutes: Bekkhan Shaizada (GK), Aleksandr Zarutski (GK), Sergei Malyy, Islambek Kuat, Islam Chesnokov, Aslan Darabayev, Elkhan Astanov, Bagdat Kairov, Lev Skvortsov, Timur Dosmagambetov, Temirlan Yerlanov.
Northern Ireland: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Paddy McNair, Trai Hume, Daniel Ballard, Jonny Evans (captain), Shea Charles, Conor McMenamin, Alistair McCann, Conor Washington, George Saville, Matty Kennedy.
Substitutes: (used) Paul Smyth, Jordan Thompson, Jordan Jones, Josh Magennis, Dion Charles; (unused) Conor Hazard (GK), Luke Southwood (GK), Brodie Spencer, Eoin Toal, Isaac Price, Brad Lyons, Paddy Lane.