Northern Ireland's Euro 2012 qualification hopes took a heavy blow in Belgrade as Group C rivals Serbia came from behind to win 2-1 on Friday.
Only some brave last-ditch defending stopped them going behind but when Gareth McAuley rose to head home Chris Brunt's cross in the 40th minute, a famous victory looked on the cards.
But Serbia, playing in the near-deserted Crvena Zvezda Stadium as a result of crowd trouble against Italy, hit back through Marko Pantelic before Zoran Tosic drilled in the winner via a slight deflection.
With just four minutes gone Brunt attempted something spectacular, lashing an ambitious looping shot at goal from just inside the Serbia half.
It was directed well enough to cause goalkeeper Zeljko Brkic a moment's hesitation but it continued harmlessly over.