Published Friday, 07 September 2012
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Veteran goalie Roy Carroll made his first international start in six years, while Dean Shiels found himself on the bench in spite of recent back-to-back man of the match performances.
It took half-an-hour to open the scoring, but it was Russia's Viktor Fayzulin who fired home from eight yards out.
The visitors' first opportunity came when Chris Brunt's corner found his West Bromwich Albion teammate Gareth McAuley, but his back-post header drifted wide.
And the next goal came courtesy of a late penalty against Northern Ireland's Craig Cathcart - and a much disputed one at that - just 13 minutes from full-time, with Roman Shirokov beating Carroll.
That left Fabio Capello's side to pick up the three points, as had been expected with Michael O'Neill's men very much the underdogs.
They will be disappointed though, after the Russia boss raised eyebrows ahead of the game with a dismissive jibe about his opponents - referring to them as "only Northern Ireland".
After the game, manager Michael O'Neill said he was left stunned by the penalty decision that ended Northern Ireland's hopes.
"I felt at 1-0 we were well in the game and that the penalty - a very soft penalty - killed the game for us," he said.
The referee was very fussy towards us throughout the night. The lads didn't deserve that, they deserved to stay in the game.
"I was very surprised by the decision. My initial reaction was that the referee had booked the striker for a theatrical fall," the manager said.
"There looked to no contact whatsoever for the penalty but the pitch was very bad so maybe he lost his footing because of that.
Meanwhile Jonny Evans hurt himself following an unusual incident before half-time.
Evans lashed the ball into the crowd after being judged offside with the last kick of the first period and immediately went down in pain before hobbling from the pitch.
A hasty evaluation of the ankle he had surgery on over the summer saw him cleared to continue.
"We examined Jonny thoroughly at half-time," O'Neill said. "I thought he showed magnificent character to play the 90 minutes and we think he'll be okay for Tuesday. It was just a knock.
"Right through the team there were some big, big performances but Jonny's performance with the knock typified the spirit we are hopefully building in this group of players.
"That will be very important for us going forward."
Despite defeat O'Neill says he wants to focus on the positives.
"We could have been better in possession, the players know that, but I would rather focus on positives - the discipline, the shape and the work-rate of the team was fantastic," he said.
Northern Ireland are next in action against Luxembourg back home at Windsor Park next week.