Northern Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for next year’s World Cup suffered a major setback as they were held to a goalless draw by Bulgaria at Windsor Park.
Ian Baraclough’s side dominated on a night Steven Davis earned a British record-breaking 126th cap for his country but could not find a breakthrough, with Stuart Dallas going closest when he headed on to the crossbar midway through the first half.
The draw leaves Northern Ireland with only one point from their opening two qualifiers and in precisely the position they hoped to avoid – needing to play catch-up against Italy and Switzerland who have both taken maximum points from their opening fixtures.
This may have been the first clean sheet for Baraclough, but the lack of goals in his side was a major talking point before the match and no solutions have been found, with 67% possession translating into only three efforts on target. Second-half substitute Niall McGinn made an impact, flashing a good shot wide of the target after turning on the edge of the box late on, while Daniel Naumov had to save from Gavin Whyte, but on the whole Bulgaria’s debutant goalkeeper was not seriously troubled.
Instead it was Bailey Peacock-Farrell – who faced questions after last Thursday’s loss to Italy – who had to make an outstanding last-minute save to keep out Dimitar Iliev’s header.
Though it is still early days in the qualifying campaign, the failure to beat a Bulgaria side deep into a rebuilding phase – they had four new faces in their side – is a major missed opportunity in a group where Northern Ireland always faced an uphill task.
The result also leaves Baraclough still chasing a first win inside 90 minutes after 11 games in charge. There have been impressive performances during his tenure, but not yet the results to match.