Uefa Nations League: Austria 1-0 Northern Ireland
Jamal Lewis and Valentino Lazaro challenge for possession during the match in Vienna

Northern Ireland’s Nations League hopes suffered a major setback as Marko Arnautovic’s second-half goal condemned them to a 1-0 defeat in Austria.

Arnautovic ran in behind right-back Paddy McNair and coolly slipped the ball past Bailey Peacock-Farrell for the only goal in Vienna.

McNair and skipper Steven Davis had chances for the visitors, while Will Grigg’s late header hit a post.

NI lost their opening Group B3 game 2-1 to Bosnia-Herzegovina in September.

Northern Ireland are bottom of the table without a point and in danger of relegation to the third-tier Group C with games against Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo on Monday and Austria in Belfast in November to come.

Austria are three points behind leaders Bosnia-Herzegovina, who beat Austria 1-0 last month.

The inaugural Nations League offers countries a potential backdoor route to the Euro 2020 finals if they fail to finish in the top two of their qualifying groups for the tournament.

This match was NI’s sixth of 2018 as they continue their build-up to that qualification campaign, which runs from March to November next year, with the draw to take place on 2 December.

We deserved at least a draw – Michael O’Neill

Contrast in recent form

Austria secured their fourth win in 10 meetings between the sides 13 years to the day since the countries last met, the hosts running out 2-0 winners in Vienna on that occasion.

Michael O’Neill’s side have now won only two of their past 10 matches and have failed to score in eight of their past 10 away games, including the past five in a row.

In contrast, Franco Foda’s Austria – four places above their opponents in the Fifa rankings – have taken victories in nine of their most recent 11 matches.

‘Forward thinking’

The build-up to the game was dominated by the late withdrawal from the squad of Rangers striker Kyle Lafferty, who ruled himself out on Sunday night, citing an Achilles injury.

Bolton Wanderers forward Josh Magennis was handed a lone central role up front as O’Neill opted for a 4-3-3 formation, with Millwall’s Shane Ferguson given a first competitive start in almost two years.

Ferguson headed over from Oliver Norwood’s cross from the right during a scrappy uneventful first half, while after the break McNair’s left-foot strike was palmed away by Heinz Lindner.

Davis was unable to add to his prolific scoring record during October internationals – seven of his 11 to date have come during this month – when he skewed a shot wide of the target after Stuart Dallas headed into his path.

Rotherham striker Kyle Vassell won his first cap after being called into the squad for the first time and was introduced as a second-half substitute.

It was another replacement off the bench, Grigg, who went agonisingly close to equalising late in the game when his header from a corner cannoned off the inside of a post.

Wigan frontman Grigg later sustained an injury so may be a doubt for the clash with Bosnia-Herzegovina.

George Saville and Stefan Ilsanker contend for possession at the Ernst Happel Stadium

Peacock-Farrell impresses

Goalkeeper Peacock-Farrell was restored to the starting line-up, having been handed a starting berth against Bosnia-Herzegovina but dropping to the bench for the friendly win over Israel three days later.

The Leeds United player conceded a free-kick in a dangerous position in the first half when he picked up a back-pass from Craig Cathcart, but made two fine saves at the start of the second.

First he tipped West Ham striker Arnautovic’s low right-foot shot round the post and he was down quickly to deny Stefan Ilsanker a few minutes later.

The 21-year-old could do nothing, however, as Arnautovic finished clinically after being played onside by Jamal Lewis.

Austria, who were without injured Bayern Munich wing-back David Alaba for this fixture, face Denmark in a friendly on Tuesday.

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