NORTHERN Ireland and Romania played out a goalless draw last night at Windsor Park.
The 0-0 result leaves it as-you-were at the top of Group F in the Euro 2016 qualifier.
Romania are a point clear of Michael O’Neill’s men at the top of the table with Hungary a further two points behind after their win in Finland.
Kyle Lafferty could have won it for the hosts in the final few minutes but shot straight at the goalkeeper when unmarked ten yards out.
It came after a good spell of late pressure from Northern Ireland at the end of a game full of hard work and energy but largely lacking in quality.
There was little to choose between the sides in the first half and chances were at a premium.
Claudiu Keresu came closest for Romania, firstly with an ambitious 40 yard effort from a free-kick in the opening couple of minutes that flew just wide before forcing Michael McGovern into action with an in-swinging corner that looked set to go in directly.
Lafferty was making a nuisance of himself up front for the hosts and tested Ciprian Tatarusanu with a left-footed effort from 25 yards early on and then seeing a right foot shot from a similar distance deflected just past the post.
Northern Ireland’s best chance came at the end of the half though as Chris Brunt’s out-swinging corner was narrowly missed by Chris Baird at the front post but bounced through to Johnny Evans at the far. His header was on target but Tatarusanu was equal to it and pushed it over the bar.
Romania were perhaps lucky to keep a full complement of players on the pitch after Mihai Doru Pintilii’s very late tackle on Conor McLoughlin. The midfielder stayed, feigning injury as he feared the worst but escaped with a yellow card as he got to his feet.
The game continued in the same vein after the break but it took until midway through the half for the first opportunity of note.
Gareth McAuley rushed an attempted back-pass and succeeded only in putting Gabriel Torje through on goal. The attacking midfielder drove towards the box before being confronted by Evans, he worked half a yard before seeing his shot deflect past McGovern but just wide of the post.
It was a let off for Northern Ireland but Romania rarely threatened from there on. The game appeared to be petering out with both sides happy with to take a draw before a late push by the hosts.
The impressive Steven Davis shot straight at Tatarusanu, Oliver Norwood saw his powerful free-kick tipped over the bar and Brunt curled another free-kick over the top before Lafferty failed to make a clean connection with his opportunity in the 85th minute.
The home side continued to push forward in the remaining minutes but without creating another real opening. It leaves the group delicately poised with just four games remaining.