Super-sub David Healy struck a last-gasp equaliser as Northern Ireland drew 1-1 with Azerbaijan in a Group F World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park.
The veteran striker came off the bench to drill home a low free-kick in the sixth minute of added time to rescue a point from a match the hosts should have won.
Rauf Aliyev looked to have snared a famous triumph for the minnows with a stunning 25-yard curler on five minutes as Ireland contrived to miss a plethora of chances.
Kyle Lafferty, Craig Cathcart and Daniel Lafferty were all guilty of failing to hit the target as Ireland laid siege to the away side's defence - until Healy finally restored parity late on.
The result leaves Northern Ireland on three points from four games played in qualifying - and without a win under Michael O'Neill in seven attempts.
The hosts came into the encounter hoping to break their Group F duck.
A defeat against Russia and a disappointing 1-1 draw with Luxembourg meant Northern Irish hopes of booking a place in Brazil had taken an early knock.
However, a battling 1-1 draw away to much-fancied Portugal last time out provided reason for cheer ahead of what many supporters felt represented a great chance to get their campaign up-and-running.
Much of the pre-match hype had centred around winger Niall McGinn, the man on target in Portugal - and it was his cross from the right that led to Kyle Lafferty heading a glorious chance over on four minutes.
It would prove to be a costly miss as the visitors broke forward and opened the scoring 60 seconds later. Aliyev picked up possession 25 yards from goal and unleashed a sensational curling shot that beat Roy Carroll all ends up.
It was a huge blow for Northern Ireland and they struggled to find their rhythm throughout the remainder of a scrappy first period.
But they should have been level on 25 minutes. Lafferty was put through on goal, only for a poor first touch to allow debutant goalkeeper Salahat Agayev to deny him.
Craig Cathcart then thundered another header over the top before Daniel Lafferty followed suit with a wasteful attempt in first-half stoppage time.
Ireland continued to press after the restart and Cathcart missed another opportunity when he volleyed over on 48 minutes.
Chris Baird then contrived to thunder two free headers wide when it looked easier to score before Carroll was finally called into action when he was forced to deny the dangerous Aliyev.
It looked like it was going to be one of those days for Ireland until Healy emerged from the bench to grab a share of the spoils with a free-kick from 20 yards out, deep into stoppage time.
MAN OF THE MATCH
David Healy - Northern Ireland: The Northern Irish hero came off the bench to net his 36th goal for his country and show his team-mates how to do it.
Northern Ireland: Carroll 7, Hughes 7, Cathcart 6, McAuley 6, D.Lafferty 7, McGinn 7, Davis 7, Baird 6, Ferguson 7, Shiels 6, K. Lafferty 6. Subs: McCourt 6, Brunt 6, Healy 8.
Azerbaijan: Agayev 7, Levin 7, Abbasov 6, Ramaldanov 7, Medvedev 6, Gokdemir 7, Huseynov 7, Amirguliev 6, Nadirov 6, Aliyev 7, Ozkara 6. Subs: Huseynov 6, Naziri 6, Javadov 5.
- Sports & Recreation
- David Healy
- Daniel Lafferty
- Kyle Lafferty
- Northern Ireland
- Craig Cathcart