Northern Ireland’s relegation in the Nations League could be confirmed on Monday after two late Austria goals condemned them to a cruel 2-1 defeat in Vienna on Sunday night.
Northern Ireland’s fate lies in the hands of UEFA’s control, ethics and disciplinary body, which is due to discuss how to handle the cancellation of the fixture between Romania and Norway, which had also been scheduled for Sunday evening.
Romania are expected to be handed a walkover victory after Norway’s trip to Bucharest was cancelled at the last minute due to positive tests for coronavirus within the camp, though alternatives including the drawing of lots are possible.
Should Romania get the three points, Northern Ireland would be left six points adrift at the bottom of Group B1 before the two sides meet in their final group game at Windsor Park on Wednesday night.
“It’s out of our hands and something UEFA need to decide,” manager Ian Baraclough said.
Relegation under such circumstances would mark a new low in Northern Ireland’s miserable relationship with the Nations League, a competition in which they have now lost eight of their nine games following Sunday’s defeat, and a fresh setback after their Euro 2020 qualification hopes were dashed on Thursday.
But Baraclough’s more immediate gripe with officialdom came in Vienna, where Northern Ireland conceded twice in the final 10 minutes to let slip a 1-0 lead and fall to a fourth straight defeat.
It was a strong performance in the wake of Thursday’s crushing extra-time defeat to Slovakia in the Euro 2020 qualifying play-off final, and there were hopes of an unlikely win when Josh Magennis fired Northern Ireland in front with a quarter of an hour to play.
But six minutes later Louis Schaub levelled from what looked to be an offside position, and Northern Ireland’s frustrations boiled over as assistant coach Austin MacPhee was sent off in the wake of Adrian Grbic’s 87th minute winner.
“Their first goal, I’m frustrated,” Baraclough said. “I just looked back and the guy is offside. He’s offside in the first phase and then in the second phase he’s offside again and the officials haven’t picked it up.
“That changes the whole outcome of the game for me.
“(Austria) have gone 1-0 down and, credit to them, they stepped it up and put pressure on us, but I don’t think it ends up at 2-1 if that first goal is disallowed. It’s hard to take for me and my team.”