MICHAEL O’Neill hit out at a penalty decision that dashed Northern Ireland’s hopes of claiming a point against Russia in Moscow on Friday night.
Goals from Victor Fayzulin and Roman Shirokov - from the spot - earned Fabio Capello’s men a 2-0 win in this World Cup qualifying Group F opener.
When the penalty arrived Northern Ireland still harboured hopes of claiming a heroic point, but Craig Cathcart’s collision with Alexander Kokorin inside the box resulted in the referee pointing to the spot.
“I felt at 1-0 we were well in the game and that the penalty - a very soft penalty - killed the game for us,” O’Neill said.
“I was very surprised by the decision. My initial reaction was that the referee had booked the striker for a theatrical fall.
“There looked to no contact whatsoever for the penalty but the pitch was very bad so maybe he lost his footing because of that.
“The referee was very fussy towards us throughout the night. The lads didn’t deserve that, they deserved to stay in the game.”
Despite the defeat O’Neill gleaned the positives from the performance.
“Russia are a very strong team, we knew that from the analysis we did,” he said.
“The team is very similar to the team under Dick Advocaat and we knew they would cause us problems.
“We could have been better in possession, the players know that, but I would rather focus on positives - the discipline, the shape and the work-rate of the team was fantastic.”