Johnny Gorman stepped off the bench to end Northern Ireland's dismal run of 14 successive defeats at under-21 level.
The winger, who won nine senior caps under former manager Nigel Worthington, struck with a free-kick just five minutes from time to seal a 1-0 win over Cyprus at Mourneview Park – Northern Ireland's first success at this level since a victory over the Faroe Islands in August 2011.
Gorman could even have had a hat-trick as Cyprus conceded two more free-kicks around the edge of their box in the closing stages and he almost put the icing on the cake in the final minute of the game when another dead ball effort was saved by Cypriot goalkeeper Giorgos Loizou.
Ryan Brobbel was brought down by Nikos Efthimiou and Gorman stepped up to drive the ball low into the net. It was later put down as an own-goal due to a deflection off Cyprus defender Andreas Christofides in the wall, but there was no taking the goal away from Gorman.
Brobbel had come close to giving Northern Ireland an early lead when his shot was blocked after only three minutes.
The slick Cypriots were quick on the break and Onisiforos Roushias burst through on 18 minutes and Northern Ireland were thankful that his effort hit a defender on it's way through to goalkeeper Conor Brennan.
Cyprus captain Pieros Sotiriou then shot tamely wide on 27 minutes.
Sheffield Wednesday striker Caolan Lavery, who brought into the team in place of James Gray in attack, was causing problem for the Cyprus defence and he won a corner when his shot was blocked seven minutes before half-time and he then fired wide eight minutes after the break.
After Brennan saved from Kostakis Artymatas on 62 minutes Northern Ireland manager Jim Magilton – standing in for Stephen Robinson who was with the under-17s – made a double substitution, sending on Cameron McGeehan and Gorman for Kirk Millar and Josh Carson.
Kostas Laifis and Efthimiou both went close to breaking the deadlock as Cyprus pushed for a goal, but they were denied even a point when Gorman struck the winner on 85 minutes.
Two minutes after his goal the Leyton Orient man tried again with another free-kick, which was this time deflected out for a corner.
Then on 89 minutes Gorman was given another opportunity after a foul and this time Loizou had to make a save to prevent him from doubling the lead.
Northern Ireland: Brennan, Donnelly, Conlan, McCullough, Sendles-White, Tempest, Winchester, Brobbel, Lavery, Millar, Carson. Subs: Glendinning, McKeown, Thompson, McGeehan, Morgan, McCartan, Gorman.
Cyprus: Loizou, Moulazimis, Laifis, Christofides, Englezou, Efthimiou, Stylianou, Froxylias, Artymatas, Soteriou, Roushias. Subs: Panagi, Furlonge, Panagiotou, Theodorou, Djamas, Andreou, Demetriou.
Referee: Suren Baliyan (Armenia).