Bulgaria 2-1 Northern Ireland: Todor Nedelev screamer ensures home side come from behind after Conor Washington’s first-half opener
- Conor Washington opened the scoring for Northern Ireland in the first half
- Goal was ruled out for offside before VAR intervened and allowed goal to stand
- In the second half, Todor Nedelev levelled things up for the home side in Sofia
- The same player then scored a screamer from 20 yards to win it for Bulgaria
Northern Ireland’s lingering hopes of World Cup qualification were extinguished on a soaking night in Sofia as they were sunk by Todor Nedelev’s second-half double.
Three days after losing in Switzerland, Ian Baraclough’s side simply had to win to have any chance of progressing from Group C – although a comfortable win for the Swiss in Lithuania would have made that virtually impossible anyway.
They made a strong start in the Vasil Levski National Stadium, with Liverpool teenager Conor Bradley particularly impressive down the right on his full international debut, and should have been more than one goal ahead by half-time.
Northern Ireland have been leapfrogged in their World Cup qualifying group by Bulgaria
The visitors went ahead in Sofia but a double from Todor Nedelev secured a win for Bulgaria
Nedelev scored a stunning second goal from outside the box to hand his side all three points
Bulgaria (4-4-2): Karadzhov; Turitsov, P Hristov, A Hristov, Velkovski; Chochev, R Tsonev (I Iliev 46), B Tsonev (Malinov 73), Nedelev (Yankov 73); Despodov (Bozhikov 90+2), A Iliev (Krastev 79). Subs: Lukov, Vutsov, Karagaren, Delev, Kirilov, Vitanov, D Iliev.
Scorer: Nedelev 53, 63
Northern Ireland (5-3-2): Peacock-Farrell; Bradley (Jones 68), Ballard (McGinn 82), Cathcart, Flanagan, Ferguson; McNair, Davis, Thompson; Magennis (Dallas 67), Washington (Charles 82). Subs: Hazard, Hughes, Winchester, Smyth, McCalmont, Brown.
Scorer: Washington 35
Referee: Aleksei Kulbakov (Belarus)
Paddy McNair headed straight at Ivan Karadzhov from Shane Ferguson’s cross right in front of goal in the 17th minute, and the Bulgaria keeper produced another smart save to deny Conor Washington seconds later.
Those two players were involved in the opening goal in the 35th minute when McNair whipped over an excellent cross from the right and Charlton striker Washington tucked in the rebound after Karadzhov had kept out a header from Josh Magennis.
There was a long delay before the goal was confirmed as the Belarussian officials checked for offside and the Bulgaria players complained that Dimitar Velkovski was down injured.
However, Northern Ireland made a sluggish start to the second half and were punished by two goals in 11 minutes by Nedelev.
Bulgaria’s danger man swept a left foot shot beyond Bailey Peacock-Farrell after Ilian Iliev’s cross was deflected into his path. Nedelev then produced an even better finish when Ivaylo Chochev touched the ball back to him on the edge of the box, firing into the top corner.
A frustrated Baraclough was booked in the dying moments of a defeat that leaves Northern Ireland in fourth place and needing points from their remaining games at home to Lithuania and Italy to reclaim third from Bulgaria.
Conor Washington (right) had earlier given Northern Ireland the lead in the first half
Nedelev’s team-mates mob him in celebration after the first of his two goals on the night
Washington holds the ball up – his goal put Northern Ireland ahead but they couldn’t hold on