Northern Ireland had a stoppage-time equaliser ruled out by VAR as a battling display went unrewarded in a 1-0 Euro 2024 qualifying loss to Denmark.
Jonas Wind’s goal early in the second half made the difference in Copenhagen as debutant Callum Marshall saw a dream goal ruled out for offside after a review which took almost five minutes.
The West Ham youngster flicked the ball in after Jonny Evans headed on a free-kick, but there was despair when referee Daniel Stefanski eventually signalled for offside after his colleague Tomasz Kwiatkowski took an age to review the footage.
Michael O’Neill’s men defended doggedly away to the top seeds in Group H, but a mistake just two minutes after the break proved decisive as Denmark bounced back from March’s shock defeat to Kazakhstan and put the pressure on Northern Ireland to deliver when the Kazakhs visit Windsor Park on Monday.
Wind pounced when Ciaron Brown got it all wrong trying to deal with Joakim Maehle’s short cross in from the left, slamming the ball home from close range.
But O’Neill will take encouragement from how a youthful line-up dealt with the hardest fixture in Group H.
Before kick-off came news that Craig Cathcart had suffered a back injury, taking the number of first-team regulars missing to 10, a figure threatening to derail this qualifying campaign even before the halfway stage.
Trai Hume made his first start at left wing-back, with Evans between Brown and Paddy McNair at the back. Also making his first start was Isaac Price, one of three teenagers in the side along with Conor Bradley and Shea Charles.
O’Neill was well aware of what he was asking of such inexperienced players in the raucous atmosphere of the Parken Stadium, and watched on as they soaked up huge amounts of pressure before the break as Denmark grew frustrated.
Andreas Skov Olsen’s early cross was slightly behind Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who twisted acrobatically to make contact but could not find the target.
Christian Eriksen sent a free-kick from long range wide, while the clearest chance came to Crystal Palace defender Joachim Andersen just before the half hour as space opened up in front of him, but his powerful shot was straight at Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
Shayne Lavery, selected ahead of Dion Charles in attack, worked tirelessly to offer an outlet as he and the slender figure of Price, asked to play in an advanced role, faced up to Denmark’s imposing back three of Simon Kjaer, Andreas Christensen and Andersen.
It was Lavery who had Northern Ireland’s only first-half opportunity when Price laid the ball off on the edge of the area. Lavery looked up to see three defenders closing in, but got off a deflected strike which Kasper Schmeichel was able to gather.
But after all that hard work in the first half, Denmark needed only two minutes of the second to find the breakthrough thanks to a mistake at the back.
Northern Ireland did not recover their shape after Bradley lost the ball, and when Brown stumbled to the floor, Wind accepted the gift.
A set-piece offered Northern Ireland an opportunity but Price and Lavery got their wires crossed trying to play it short and Denmark broke, with Peacock-Farrell saving smartly from the in-demand Rasmus Hojlund, scorer of five goals in the first two qualifiers.
Quick distribution from Peacock-Farrell set Price free down the right as the hour mark approached, but with no support the teenager had to test Schmeichel from a tight angle, forcing a corner.
It looked as though there was a late twist when Marshall, on for Ali McCann with five minutes left, turned the ball home from close range, but VAR would kill the celebrations.
Just three games into the qualifying campaign, it feels as though Northern Ireland must now deliver a result at home on Monday to keep themselves in the mix.