KYLE Lafferty grabbed a last gasp goal to given Northern Ireland a vital point in their match against Hungary at Windsor Park.
The ten-man Northern Ireland team were denied the three points that would have sent the Green and White Army into the Euro Finals in France next summer.
Despite the draw, Northern Ireland still remain top of Group F
Their cause wasn’t helped when Chris Baird was sent off ten minutes from the end for a rash challenge from behind.
It needed a stoppage-time equaliser from Kyle Lafferty to cancel out Hungary defender Richard Guzmics’ second-half opener at Windsor Park.
The result means Michael O’Neill’s side have been assured of at least a play-off place, but they must wait until October’s qualifier at home to Greece to confirm their place at next summer’s European Championship finals.
Northern Ireland made just the one change from the side that started Friday night’s 3-1 win in the Faroe Islands, with Corry Evans coming in for the more attack-minded Niall McGinn.
O’Neill may have been wary of the visitors’ recent upturn in form that had seen them unbeaten in their previous six matches heading to Belfast, the last five of which they had kept clean sheets in.
Either way, though, it was Northern Ireland who made the better start as they went in search of the early goal that would have settled the home fans’ already frayed nerves.
However, despite dominating possession for large parts of the first period, while also being driven on by a raucous Windsor Park crowd, Northern Ireland found it hard to carve out any meaningful openings.
In fact, the closest the home team actually came to breaking the deadlock came when Reading midfielder Oliver Norwood tested Gabor Kiraly with a 30-yard free kick that the Hungary goalkeeper palmed away to safety.
Meanwhile at the other end, opposite number Michael McGovern was a virtual spectator before the break, with the only time the Hamilton Academical No. 1 was called into action coming when he made a brilliant close-range block to deny Krisztian Nemeth just past the half-hour mark.
However, it turned out that the former Liverpool forward had already strayed into an offside position before getting his shot away, meaning that the worst news for Northern Ireland in the first half was the early booking picked up by Lafferty meaning the striker will now miss his country’s next qualifier against Greece.
The second period was far more eventful, with Hungary midfielder Zoltan Gera twice going close to breaking the deadlock, first with a flashing header and then with a shot from distance that flew just wide of McGovern’s post.
The home team never appeared in danger of conceding, although they also barely threatened themselves, apart from two Norwood free-kicks that Kiraly was forced to gather.
But the contest really came to life in the final quarter of an hour when the visitors took a surprise lead following a terrible mistake by McGovern, who dropped Hungary captain Balazs Dzsudzsak’s free-kick straight at the feet of Guzmics, who had no problems tapping home from virtually on the goalline.
And it seemed as though the home team’s hopes were over when Baird was given two yellow cards by Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir for fouls that happened within just a few seconds of each other.
That was, though, until Lafferty found himself in the right place at the right time in the third minute of injury time to tap home after Kiraly could not hold substitute McGinn’s fierce drive from the edge of the area.