MICHAEL O’NEILL watched football immortality come and go in fifteen mad minutes.
Northern Ireland were clinging onto a hard-earned point having taken the lead – only to succumb in injury time.
4 Depay netted a vital brace for the DutchCredit: EPA
4 De Jong poked home the winner after his first shot looped into the airCredit: AP:Associated Press
Defeat means O’Neill’s team now slip to third place in Group C leaving their Euro 2020 qualifying hopes hanging by a thread.
Boss O’Neill reckoned he needed four points from back-to-back qualifiers against the Dutch to stand any chance of making it to next summer’s finals.
For five minutes his tiny nation were on course for their biggest win since the beating Spain in 2006 after Josh Magennis gave them a shock lead.
The Hull City striker had only been on the pitch for nine minutes when he headed home from inside the box after a cock-up in defence between Daley Blind and Matthijs de Ligt.
With 15 minutes to go it appeared as if O’Neill’s defensive masterplan would hold out – only to see his team crumble.
And it was former Manchester United flop Memphis Depay who made them pay with two goals as they ran out of steam and the sloppy Dutch finally woke up.
4 Magennis had given the visitors a shock leadCredit: AP:Associated Press
4 Northern Irish fans could scarcely believe their luck in RotterdamCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Depay equalised in the 80th minute and scored his country’s third four minutes into injury time to seal what on paper looks like a routine night.
Substitute Luuk de Jong scored in between, one minute into stoppage time as Northern Irish resistance faded.
O’Neill knew he faced a huge task to get anything from the team ranked 13 in the world at a stadium where they have won 16 games on the spin.
But for a spell it looked as if he might be able to face Holland at Windsor Park next month with a chance to upset the odds and cling onto the all-important second place.
Magennis’ goal was Northern Ireland’s only shot on target all night and it was the forward’s first goal of any kind this season.
O’Neill’s plan was to soak up Dutch pressure and hit on the counter attack and it seemed to be working a treat.
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Holland dominated possession and the number of chances in front of goal but also missed a string of opportunities to take the lad and make it a more comfortable night.
Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum had a thunderous shot black in the first half and he also blazed over the bar in the second.
To make matters worse for Northern Ireland, Holland go to whipping boys Belarus on Sunday where they should stretch their lead even further over O’Neill’s team.