Nigel Worthington thanked his players for a "fantastic" performance against Serbia, despite surrendering a first-half lead to go down 2-1 against Group C rivals Serbia.
Some heroic defending followed by a 40th-minute goal from the outstanding Gareth McAuley gave the visitors a surprise lead at the interval, before a strong second-half showing from the hosts yielded goals from Marko Pantelic and Zoran Tosic.
Worthington had targeted at least a point to keep his Euro 2012 qualification plans on track but was full of praise for the way his side went about their work. "I thought it was a tremendous performance from the Northern Ireland players," he said.
"In the first half the football they played was absolutely exceptional. They did the job very well and they got the all-important goal. But you know that at half-time Serbia are going to try and change something. They have very good players and you have to give credit to them.
"They went to a 4-2-4 and pushed players forward. Serbia are a very good team and they threw everyone forward in the second half. But I thought my players were fantastic. I thought the performance was excellent."
Worthington was particularly pleased by the efforts of inexperienced midfield duo Johnny Gorman, 18, and Corry Evans, 20.
Both were making their first competitive starts and Worthington believes his bold selection policy was vindicated.
"I thought both of the boys were fantastic," he continued. "Look at Corry on the right side he was out on his feet with 20 minutes to go but he didn't want to come off and that shows you what he's got.
"Young Gorman on the other side, I thought he was fantastic too. He was very disciplined and controlled with what he was asked to do at the age of 18 in an international game, against a very good side. I'm thrilled for them and I'm pleased for the team too."
Worthington has more problems ahead of Tuesday's clash with Slovenia, with Kyle Lafferty one of a number of players with fitness concerns and David Healy suspended after picking up a yellow card.