Bailey Peacock-Farrell made another penalty save in Belfast, but Northern Ireland couldn’t produce the win they needed to oust Switzerland from second place in Group C.
Given the lingering sense of injustice over the decisive penalty awarded to the Swiss in a World Cup play-off between these two countries four years ago, there was a cruel irony about Austrian referee Harald Lechner’s contentious decision to punish Michael Smith for his challenge on Ruben Vargas in the 32nd minute.
‘There was certainly no push,’ said Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough. ‘By the time the collision happened, the ball was in mid-air and on its way out. There was no danger. It wasn’t stopping him getting to the ball.
Shayne Lavery wasted the hosts’ best chance in the first half, slicing wide after a fast break
The hosts then conceded a soft penalty, but Bailey Peacock-Farrell saved from Haris Seferovic
The Northern Irelands fans roared in support at Windsor Park following Peacock-Farrell’s save
Northern Ireland (4-4-2): Peacock-Farrell; Brown, Ballard, Cathcart, Lewis; Smith (Bradley 68), McCann, Davis, Thompson (Saville 74); Washington (Charles 68), Lavery (Jones 86)
Subs not used: Flanagan, McGinn, Lafferty, Ferguson, Carson, Whyte, McCalmont, Hazard
Bookings: Smith, Lewis, Brown
Switzerland (4-3-2-1): Sommer; Widmer, Elvedi, Akanji, Rodriguez; Freuler, Frei (Steffen 60), Zakaria (Aebischer 86); Fassnacht (Zuber 59), Vargas; Seferovic (Zeqiri 77)
Subs not used: Garcia, Mvogo, Sow, Lauper, Lotomba, Kobel, Schar, Zesiger
Bookings: Frei, Zakaria
Referee: Harald Lechner (Austria)
‘He threw himself to the ground because he knew the ball was going out of play, that’s my argument with it. If you’re going to do that, we’re going to have 10 penalties in a game.’
Asked if the big teams get the big decisions in their favour, he replied: ‘You’re words not mine!’
Having saved a spot-kick at a crucial moment in the win over Lithuania in Vilnius last week, Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Peacock-Farrell kept out a poor attempt from Haris Seferovic.
‘Is that four penalties he’s saved this season, and two big ones for us?’ said Baraclough. ‘It’s great to have a goalkeeper that you know is on top of his game.’
An injury-hit Northern Ireland matched a Swiss side missing Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri as 16,000 fans returned to Windsor Park, and Shayne Lavery was a real handful for the No.14 ranked team in the world.
Lavery’s best chance arrived in the ninth minute when he burst clear from halfway, but the Blackpool striker got the ball caught under his feet and fired wide.
He admitted Northern Ireland were disappointed not to pick up their third victory in a week after winning the Lithuania qualifier and a friendly in Estonia.
‘I thought we could have picked up the three points in the end. Overall we’re disappointed,’ he said. ‘But these 10 days we’ve had a lot of setbacks with players coming out, a few injuries and stuff, so to pick up three positive results in the end is a great for all the lads and the staff.’
A draw keeps Northern Ireland’s hopes alive and they go to Geneva next month looking for the win that would put them in firmly contention with the Swiss behind leaders Italy.
Peacock-Farrell said: ‘Only time will tell when the next trip comes about whether it’s a good point or not. It was against a good Swiss side and we were depleted in numbers, but we need to build on that and make it count.’
Manuel Akanji could not direct a free-kick from Ruben Vargas on target while stretching
Ian Baraclough saw his side tussle for a point which keeps them in the mix to qualify for Qatar