DAVID Healy turned back the clock as Northern Ireland salvaged a dramatic point against Azerbaijan at Windsor Park on Wednesday night.
Healy - introduced as an 82nd-minute substitute - rifled a low 25-yard free-kick past Salahat Aghayev in the sixth minute of injury time to earn a 1-1 draw.
It was the Bury striker’s first international goal in over four years - his last coming against San Marino in October 2008 - and cancelled Rauf Aliyev’s superb fifth-minute opener for the visitors.
It spared the blushes of Healy’s misfiring teammates who squandered a raft of gilt-edged chances on a night of toil and labour in Belfast.
Kyle Lafferty, Craig Cathcart and Chris Baird were all guilty of fluffing their lines in embarrassing fashion.
But while Healy’s late intervention gave the Windsor fans something to cheer, it does little to improve Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifying dream.
Three points from four games has Michael O’Neill’s hopes coming apart at the seams.
O’Neill - still searching for his first win after seven games - must be wondering how he didn’t break his duck last night.
On another night Northern Ireland could have romped to an emphatic victory.
Northern Ireland started brightly and Niall McGinn forged his way to the by-line before crossing for Kyle Lafferty, but the FC Sion striker could only direct his header over the bar from six yards.
One minute later Windsor was silenced with Aliyev’s stunning strike.
Aliyev received a pass from Javid Huseynov 25 yards from goal, and proceeded to unleash an unstoppable left-foot shot past Roy Carroll.
Northern Ireland attempted to find a quick reply.
In the 32nd minute Cathcart headed tamely wide after being teed up by Shiels.
Northern Ireland’s impotency in front of goal continued with Gareth McAuley heading wide from Steven Davis’ corner in the 35th minute.
Northern Ireland emerged with intent in the second half, and should have restored parity two minutes after the restart.
Davis’ free-kick from deep was headed down by McAuley inside the box, but after taking a neat first touch Cathcart could only blaze his volley wide from 10 yards.
Northern Ireland’s shocking display of finishing was illustrated again on the hour mark.
This time it was Baird who squandered another opening, the Fulham midfielder heading Ferguson’s inch-perfect cross wide of the target.
Baird was holding his head in his hands in the 69th minute after wasting another chance.
McCourt was the provider with a superb inswinging cross that Baird headed wide.
The last roll of dice was made in the 82nd minute with the introduction of record goal scorer Healy.
And deep into injury time the talisman delivered.
Healy stepped up to hammer a low shot past the motionless Aghayev.
Cue scenes of mass jubilation in the stands, but as far as Brazil 2014 is concerned they will be short-lived.