Northern Ireland suffered yet another defeat in UEFA World Cup qualifying Group F, as it went down 2-0 to Israel at Windsor Park.
The hosts were unlucky to not be ahead in the first half after Steven Davis saw his shot blocked brilliantly by Dudu Aouate, and the Green and White Army enjoyed the better chances of a goalless opening period. Their good work was undone in the second half, though, as goals in the 77th and 84th minutes, respectively, from Lior Rafaelov and Eden Ben Basat secured a priceless victory for the visitors.
Michael O’Neill came into this game without a win as manager of Northern Ireland and made just one change, with the suspended Kyle Lafferty replaced by Martin Paterson up front. Meanwhile, the Israelis also had a striker ruled out by a ban, with Tomer Hemed forced to sit out having scored seven goals in his previous seven international matches.
The game began in bitterly cold conditions, and it was the away side that settled quickest, with Itay Schechter hitting the post with an early header at the near post.
It took until the 19th minute for either side to create another opening, as Davis’ delightful pass nearly found Paterson in the box, but a timely intervention by Tal Ben Haim thwarted the chance.
The home side bgean to enjoy a good amount of possession as Israel tried to soak up the pressure, with Chris Brunt’s set pieces creating some problems for the visitors.
The hosts came close to opening the scoring in the 30th minute, as Paterson seized upon a defensive error to play a square ball to Davis, but his shot was saved brilliantly by Aouate, with the follow-ups from Brunt and Aaron Hughes also blocked.
The visitors started the second half in a more attacking vein and forced Roy Carroll to make a reaction save in the 53rd minute from a fierce Maor Melikson shot.
Northern Ireland then had another superb chance just five minutes later, as Davis received the ball from just outside the penalty area and cannoned a shot off the crossbar.
Somewhat against the run of play, it was the away side that took the lead, as a slick passing move caught Northern Ireland’s defense napping, and Rafaelov was able to slot home.
The home side tried its best to find a late equalizer but conceded again after Ben Basat’s superb finish and slumped to yet another disappointing defeat. Israel kept pace with Portugal, a 2-0 winner over Azerbiajan, and remains in second place behind Russia, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo's side on goal differential.