Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill could only look on with envy as Edin Dzeko proved the match winner for Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo last night.
O’Neill’s side hit the post three times as their run of away games without a goal extended to six, but Bosnia had no such issues as Dzeko punished mistakes in either half in a 2-0 Nations League win.
The opener came in the 27th minute when Jamal Lewis slipped and lost the ball in his own area, and the second arrived in the 73rd minute when Dzeko was allowed to peel off into space before firing home.
That was moments after an incredible miss from Gavin Whyte, who hit the post when faced with an open goal shortly after coming on as a substitute.
George Saville had hit a post in the first half, while a late Whyte cross was deflected onto the upright to sum up Northern Ireland’s evening.
“There’s an element of disappointment, there’s an element of frustration,” O’Neill said after his side’s third straight defeat in the competition, a run which makes them favourites to be relegated from Group B3.
“We had two good chances to go ahead and possibly should have been one or two ahead.
“Obviously the first goal is a bad mistake in a bad area from a young player.
“Ultimately when you have a player like Dzeko he will punish you and he did.
“We had chances to go 1-1 and we don’t take them, it was incredible we didn’t take them.
“And Dzeko punished us again when we were trying to push forward.”
They were the 54th and 55th international goals of Dzeko’s career - coming as the 32-year-old earned his 97th cap.
O’Neill could only look on with envy as the former Manchester City striker sent Bosnia top of the group with three wins from three.
“I think if you look at ourselves, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland, we’re all in search of that player who can unlock the game for you and with experience at international level,” he said.
“We’re looking at a player tonight who has scored over 50 international goals in just under 100 appearances. That tells you everything you need to know.
“We don’t have a player who plays at that level of the game. We can’t buy one. He has to come from Northern Ireland or have a blood line to Northern Ireland so we have to persevere.”
The frustration felt by Northern Ireland at the final whistle was similar to the mood after the reverse fixture at Windsor Park last month - a game they dominated only to lose 2-1 following defensive errors.
The margins between the two sides were again slight, something acknowledged by Bosnia coach Robert Prosinecki.
“The match was exactly as we expected,” he said through a translator. “We expected a very hard match, we were facing Northern Ireland who are a brilliant team and they have shown this quality this evening.
“They can play with anyone at any level. They had a lot of opportunities and we have seen the post being hit several times.”