Northern Ireland’s Euro 2024 qualifying misery continued as the country suffered a 1-0 defeat against Kazakhstan after the long trip to Astana.
It was the fifth consecutive defeat of the season and the fourth time in the last five years that Michael O’Neill’s injury-hit side failed to score.
Kazakhstan put the first nail in the coffin of Northern Ireland’s qualification hopes with their resounding 1-0 win in Belfast in June and added another here with Maksim Samorodov’s 27th-minute strike, enough to take three points.
Northern Ireland can only envy the progress of a team 40 places behind them as Kazakhstan stays in the thick of the qualifying battle with a fourth win in Group H.
O’Neill has more than enough capital – both in the dressing room and beyond – to avoid coming under pressure, but this run of defeats and the injury crisis that has contributed to them will become a real test of Northern Ireland’s resolve.
The qualifying campaign has gone so wrong that the Green and White Army may even be looking forward to next year’s Nations League – a competition that has rarely warmed the hearts of Northern Irish people.
This was another game in which there was little separation between the teams – Northern Ireland had more possession and more shots – but O’Neill’s men didn’t feel the green on the Astana Arena’s artificial surface.
O’Neill promised adjustments to make his side more compact after Thursday’s 4-2 defeat to Slovenia, but as Kazakhstan got stronger he managed to frustrate the visitors by not showing the same attacking power as against Slovenia .
George Saville’s ambitious second-minute strike was so close that Northern Ireland went wide in the first half hour.
Kazakhstan looked more threatening when Baktiyor Zainutdinov hit a low shot just wide before Trai Hume had to make a strong block to keep out Yerkin Tapalov’s shot.
But just moments later the hosts took the lead when Samorodov evaded the returning Dan Ballard, creating space to fire a shot into the bottom corner of the net from 20 yards out, prompting a lengthy confrontation between Saville and Jonny Evans led.
Kazakhstan threatened again. Bailey Peacock-Farrell failed to collect a high ball under pressure from Abzal Beysebekov before Paddy McNair cleared the danger, then Ballard made an important block to prevent Samorodov from getting through clean.
Having overcome the danger, Northern Ireland managed to miss their best chance of the evening before half-time. Conor Washington slotted the ball perfectly into the path of Matty Kennedy but the Kilmarnock man struggled to get it out of his feet and fired a tame cross shot past goalkeeper Igor Shatskiy.
Conor McMenamin came running and tried to get home, but goalscorer Samorodov beat him to it before the ball could be cleared, leaving Northern Ireland at a loss.
O’Neill sent on Jordan Thompson and Paul Smyth at half-time to replace McMenamin and Saville and Northern Ireland soon threatened again, with Shatskiy doing well to deny Washington when he parried away a shot from Shea Charles.
Northern Ireland kept Kazakhstan at bay for most of the final 20 minutes but, as so often before, the clear chance they needed to equalize proved elusive.