Macdara Ferris reports from Belfast
It was heartbreak for Northern Ireland as Valentino Lazaro scored a superbly taken winner for Austria in injury time to leave the home side with four defeats from four UEFA Nations League games.
On another night – as has been the case throughout this mini-tournament – they would have taken at least a point and their performance on Sunday evening deserved more than it got.
Having fallen behind to an early second-half goal from Xaver Schlager, Micheal O’Neill’s men were delighted to get an equaliser through Corry Evans.
They even came close themselves to a winner before full time, only to lose the match deep into injury time.
It was an even enough first half in Belfast with the Northern Ireland set-piece delivery from Niall McGinn giving the home side the edge, even if it wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard.
Michael O’Neill’s men had scored just the one goal in the UEFA Nations League up until this match and it was another scoreless 45 minutes in the opening period.
O’Neill had spoken ahead of the game of giving some of his experienced players who have had limited game time at club level a run out.
That was certainly the case as Gareth McAuley joined Steven Davis, Jonny Evans and Stuart Dallas in the starting XI.
McGinn whipped five first half corners into the box but the closest Norn Iron came to a goal was a McGinn free kick just a minute from the break.
The ball looked like it was going into the top corner as Heinz Lindner couldn’t get his hand to the ball but it drifted just wide of his right-hand post.
The Austrians were dangerous on the break and Trevor Carson, starting in goal, was required to pull off a great save, diving full-length to this left to push Michael Gregoritsch’s shot behind for a corner.
The Augsburg striker was left isolated as the Austrian 4-2-3-1 formation was kept pegged back by the home side.
David Alaba did go close with a free kick from just outside the area on the quarter hour mark.
Davis in the middle of the park looked to stifle the Austrian attack and get his side moving forward as quickly as possible.
They got more joy down the left from Jordan Jones and he pressurised the Austrians into conceding a number of those first half corners.
The second half got off to the worst possible start for the home team as they found themselves trailing within four minutes of the restart.
It was a sweeping move from Austrians down the left with the ball coming to Xaver Schlager and he swept his left foot shot home from the edge of the box.
The visitors ran to celebrate with the sizeable travelling support but soon it was the vociferous home fans who were on the feet to cheer on a goal.
Corry Evans went on a great run through the centre, which saw him get on the end of a delightfully weighted Jordan Jones pass.
His shot was going on target but a touch off an Austrian defender helped it beat Heinz Linder in the Austrian goal.
Twice Alaba went close in couple of minutes. The first came after another Austrian counterattack through Gregoritsch and Schlager but the Bayern Munich man’s shot didn’t trouble Carson.
He really should have put his team a goal up three minutes later as substitute Marko Arnautovic did well holding the ball up in the box. Alaba had time and space but blazed over the bat.
At the other end, George Saville went close with the bounce of the ball just taking his effort by the post but that was the closest they came to going in front.
It seemed like the North had earned their first points of the UEFA Nations League only for Lazaro to cut through them late on.
What a winner it was, as he got the ball on the left on the edge of the area. He shifted it onto his right creating space to shoot and curled a beaut into the top corner.
The UEFA Nations League will provide a possible back door route to EURO 2020 for some sides but not Michael O’Neill’s men who finished bottom of their group and without a win.
Their focus will firmly turn to the front door route to qualification with the draw for the qualification stage due to take place in Dublin a fortnight from today.
They will be an opponent that most teams will want to avoid, despite the results in these competitive games across the last few months.
Northern Ireland: Trevor Carson; Michael Smith, Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, Stuart Dallas; Niall McGinn (Gavin Whyte 74), Corry Evans (Paddy McNair 88), Steven Davis ©, George Saville, Jordan Jones; Liam Boyce (Kyle Lafferty 74).
Subs not used: Michael McGovern (gk), Conor Hazard (gk), Craig Cathcart, Conor McLaughlin, Jordan Thompson, Aaron Hughes, Shane Ferguson, Kyle Vassell, Josh Magennis.
Booked: Gareth McAuley (79).
Austria: Heinz Lindner; Stefan Lainer, Aleksandar Dragovic, Martin Hinteregger, Andreas Ulmer; Stefan Ilsanker (Peter Zulj h/t), Julian Baumgartlinger (C); Valentino Lazaro, Xaver Schlager, David Alaba; Michael Gregoritsch (Marko Arnautovic 71).
Subs not used: Cican Stankovic, Richard Strebinger, Kevin Wimmer, Louis Schaub, Thomas Goiginger, Alessandro Schöpf; Stefan Hierlander, Marc Janko, Florian Kainz.
Booked: Julian Baumgartlinger (52), David Alaba (74).
Referee: Jonathan Lardot (Belgium).
Attendance: 17,895 (official).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Steven Davis (Northern Ireland).