A late header by substitute Gavin Whyte snatched a draw for 10-man Northern Ireland in new manager Ian Baraclough’s first game in charge.
It looked like Baraclough’s reign was going to get off to a losing start as his side fell behind to a first-half George Puskas goal in Bucharest.
The night got worse when Josh Magennis was sent off after receiving a second yellow card just before half-time.
But Whyte’s goal grabbed NI a first Nations League point in five outings.
Baraclough’s men now face Norway on Monday night in Belfast before their Euro play-off semi-final away to Bosnia-Herzegovina next month.
Goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell produced an outstanding performance for the visitors, making a series of good saves particularly after his side went down to 10 men.
The most impressive perhaps came immediately after Whyte’s equaliser, when the Burnley stopper got his fingertips to a Denis Alibec shot to deflect it on to the woodwork.
Peacock-Farrell even had a hand in his side’s 86th-minute goal, launching a free-kick into the box that was flicked on by Kyle Lafferty before his fellow substitute sneaked in at the back post to head home from close range.
Romania’s opener followed a good Peacock-Farrell save after a clever set-piece move, but NI did not react quickly enough and the rebound fell to Vlad Chiriches who set up a tap-in for Reading’s Puscas.
After an earlier booking for an elbow, Magennis’s second yellow card six minutes before the break looked equally harsh as French referee Francois Letexier adjudged him to have led with an arm in a challenge with Alex Maxim.
What changed under Baraclough?
Baraclough said upon his appointment in June that he did not intend on making significant changes in terms of the international blueprint that proved successful for his predecessor Michael O’Neill.
His first team selection largely reflected that in terms of the personnel regularly chosen by the now Stoke City boss, apart from young Arsenal centre-half Daniel Ballard who made a promising senior international debut in place of the experienced Jonny Evans, who withdrew from the squad for private reasons.
Despite pre-match Uefa communications suggesting a three-man defence, Ballard lined up in a back four, alongside Craig Cathcart and with Stuart Dallas and Jamal Lewis at full-back.
Paddy McNair’s strong running from midfield was a feature of the last qualifying campaign and, until the Magennis sending off at least, his starting position seemed to be even further forward than usual, supporting striker Conor Washington as captain Steven Davis and Corry Evans anchored the midfield.
One more definite change change from Baraclough saw George Saville taking up a role on the left of a front three, with Magennis ploughing the right hand side and the ever-willing Washington working hard through the middle.
While unable to bring the usual mix of noise and colour to the stadium, the Green and White Army will no doubt be delighted that the never-say-die spirit that O’Neill had engendered was once again very evident as the players pushed for the late equaliser.
Peacock-Farrell to the fore as subs make an impact
After making his debut in a friendly away to Panama in the summer of 2018, 23-year-old Peacock-Farrell was excellent on what was his 15th international cap in Bucharest.
He has hardly played club football since making the step up to the Premier League with Burnley last summer, but any lack of match sharpness was not apparent he thwarted goalscorer Puskas and Nicolae Stanciu amongst others.
His assured presence behind a back four in which debutant Ballard was beginning to tire in the second half was vital as the hosts made their extra man count after a scrappy first half in which neither side gained any attacking rhythm.
Northern Ireland were coming under increasing pressure and Baraclough looked to his bench for impetus, with Whyte coming add to add pace through the middle and soon being joined by Lafferty.
The target man did well to steer his header into an inviting area at the back post with the ever-alert Whyte nipping in to score his second international goal, having opened his account on his debut in September 2018.
Maintaining momentum key against Norway
Baraclough will have been delighted to have avoided defeat in his opening match, particularly given the stop-start nature of the first half and the difficulties his side faced while down to 10 men.
Ballard produced a steady debut, even if he did make some minor errors as cramp began to set in, but the new boss will hope to have Jonny Evans available for Monday’s home match against Norway.
It may not be in front of a packed Windsor Park as any new NI manager would wish, but maintaining a positive momentum ahead of the trip to Bosnia on 8 October will be no less important.
With captain Davis playing in Romania, more game time for the Rangers man against the Norwegians would see him equalling the all-time NI caps record of 119 held by Pat Jennings.
- 4HancaSubstituted forNedelcearuat 86′minutes
- 22CicaldauSubstituted forNistorat 74′minutesBooked at 78mins
- 14HagiBooked at 42minsSubstituted forCretuat 56′minutes
- 15Andonie Burca
- 4BallardSubstituted forSmithat 90+1′minutes
- 21MagennisBooked at 39mins
- 13EvansBooked at 33minsSubstituted forLaffertyat 77′minutes
- 16WashingtonSubstituted forWhyteat 65′minutes
- François Letexier
Match ends, Romania 1, Northern Ireland 1.
Second Half ends, Romania 1, Northern Ireland 1.
Attempt missed. Alexandru Maxim (Romania) right footed shot from the right side of the box is close, but misses to the right.
Attempt missed. Alexandru Cretu (Romania) header from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Dan Nistor with a cross.
Alin Tosca (Romania) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Kyle Lafferty (Northern Ireland).
Foul by Alexandru Maxim (Romania).
Stuart Dallas (Northern Ireland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Northern Ireland. Michael Smith replaces Danny Ballard because of an injury.
Corner, Romania. Conceded by Steven Davis.
Attempt saved. George Puscas (Romania) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Dan Nistor with a cross.
Foul by George Puscas (Romania).
George Saville (Northern Ireland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt saved. Denis Alibec (Romania) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the top centre of the goal.
Goal! Romania 1, Northern Ireland 1. Gavin Whyte (Northern Ireland) header from very close range to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Kyle Lafferty with a headed pass following a set piece situation.
Substitution, Romania. Ionut Nedelcearu replaces Sergiu Hanca.
Foul by Alexandru Cretu (Romania).
George Saville (Northern Ireland) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Attempt blocked. Danny Ballard (Northern Ireland) header from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Patrick McNair with a cross.
Foul by Nicusor Bancu (Romania).