World Cup qualifiers: Poor second half sees Northern Ireland suffer disappointing loss to Bulgaria

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Conor Bradley, Liverpool's first starter for Northern Ireland, made an impressive start

The slim World Cup qualification chances of Northern Ireland were overthrown when they lost 2-1 to Bulgaria in Sofia.

After a long VAR review, Conor Washington scored in the 35th minute to give Ian Baraclough's team a well-deserved lead of one at half-time.

NI appeared sluggish following the break, and Todor Nedelev's two excellent strikes won the match for them.

Northern Ireland falls to fourth in Group B, with Bulgaria taking over.

Baraclough's men knew that only a win would keep alive their tiny hopes of finishing second in their group and secure the World Cup playoff spot.

However, the defeat to Northern Ireland on Tuesday came three days after a controversial loss against Switzerland. They lost to Lithuania in Group C's other fixture on Tuesday. Northern Ireland is now nine points behind second-placed Switzerland with only two qualifiers remaining to play against Lithuania or Italy in Belfast.

Washington scored for Northern Ireland from a brilliant curling cross from Paddy McNair's right that was met by Josh Magennis. Josh Magennis was too close to goalkeeper Ivan Karadzhov who saved well.

Washington scored the rebound, but Washington was disqualified for offside. A VAR review determined that Washington was onside.

Bulgaria began the second half strong and Nedelev equalised in 53 minutes with a fine left foot strike. Ten minutes later, the same player struck the winner with a superb left-foot curler and found the top corner at 20 yards.

Bradley impresses as NI makes strong start

Paddy McNair missed an excellent chance to open scoring for Northern Ireland

The struggle of Northern Ireland to score goals has been well documented. Unfortunately, it came back to haunt them once more as several good opportunities were missed in the first 20 minutes.

After a disappointing opening, which saw both sides struggle to get support from the crowd, Northern Ireland showed some energy in the 17th minute when Washington scored a goal.

He was able to use his body to lay off Shane Ferguson on his left. Shane Ferguson produced a perfectly curling cross that was met at back post by Paddy McNair. However, McNair didn't have enough power to match McNair's point-blank header which allowed Karadzhov make an outstanding save.

The corner was rounded by a Craig Cathcart flick on which found Washington at the backpost. However, his shot went into the ground first. Karadzhov again made an impressive save when Northern Ireland should have scored. Jordan Thompson threatened with a few shots from the distance.

Conor Bradley, a Liverpool teenager, started the Northern Ireland match for his first time. He displayed a confident and impressive performance as right wingback.

Ferguson was doing the same on the opposite flank. The Castlederg native was in a high starting position. He was an outlet for Northern Ireland's attacks through his strong running and efficient defense.

Campaign of NI falls flat in second half

After sustaining a minor injury against Switzerland, Stuart Dallas was called up to the bench and moved to Northern Ireland's bench.

Northern Ireland seemed at ease going in at half time and with the absence of crowds in Sofia stadium it seemed like they were on track for a morale-boosting win after Saturday's shocking defeat by Switzerland.

The visitors were slow to respond at the beginning of the second period and didn't recover for the remainder of the 90 minutes. This gave momentum to the hosts, who couldn't regain it.

Bradley's threat to the right of the field diminished. He, along with most Northern Ireland players, dropped deeper but failed to shut down the hosts effectively. Ferguson let Nedelev take control for the equalizer in Bulgaria.

Baraclough used the little experience he had as a bench player to bring on Stuart Dallas and Jordan Jones to replace Bradley and Magennis. Jones was able to play through the middle, and Dion Charles, a better-known striker, made his way off the bench in the 82nd minutes.

He was too late to make an impact. However, he and the rest Northern Ireland squad must now work hard to improve their qualifications campaign.