Nigel Worthington lamented a 'cruel' 1-0 defeat to Serbia as Northern Ireland's Euro 2012 hopes took a severe knock at Windsor Park.
Having entered the game harbouring hopes of going second in Group C, they walked off at the final whistle in fifth after Estonia upset Slovenia. Steven Davis must shoulder the blame for his side's plight after he produced a woeful back-pass in the 67th minute to hand Marko Pantelic a one-on-one opportunity he never looked likely to miss.
Assessing the moment of madness by one of his most reliable performers, Worthington said: "It's a cruel way to lose a game of football. It's hugely disappointing for one of our top-class professionals in Steven Davis."
He added: "You look at all the good things Steven has done for this team in the last four years and you give him all the support you can. But he's a seasoned professional, he knows the game and he'll be able to deal with it and go again. That's football. It does happen and unfortunately it happened to us tonight."
Kyle Lafferty and Paddy McCourt missed the match with calf injuries and will not travel to Estonia for Tuesday's match, while Sammy Clingan is a doubt after pulling out with illness.
In the absence of those players, Worthington was pleased by his team's resilient display and hailed goalkeeper Lee Camp for the saves which would have been worth an important point had Davis not erred.
"We played a very, very good side and they had a lot of possession, which you expect," said Worthington.
"But we tweaked one or two things at half-time and the players were excellent in the second half.
"We had a lot of play, created one or two half chances and I couldn't fault the effort over the course of the game. They put in a real shift and I'm gutted for everyone.
"Lee kept us in the game at times and, if not for the short back-pass, we could have come out with a point but it was not to be."