Romania 2 - 0 Northern Ireland: N.Ireland defeated in Bucharest Euro 2016 qualifying match
Northern Ireland suffered their first setback in Euro 2016 qualifying as Romania's Paul Papp ended their brave resistance with a second-half brace.
Despite taking maximum points from their first three matches, including away wins in Hungary and Greece, Michael O'Neill's men were under siege for the entirety of the encounter.
Yet their backs-to-the-wall defence looked as though it would yield a vital point until right-back Papp struck in the 74th and 79th minutes to seal a 2-0 win for the new Group F leaders.
A slip from Mihai Pintilii with just two minutes gone threatened to put Kyle Lafferty through but the defender managed to regain his footing in time to clear the danger.
That aside it was a confident start from the hosts, who settled quickly and began probing Northern Ireland's League One full-backs Conor McLaughlin and Ryan McGivern.
The visitors' response was more rudimentary, with a succession of long balls escaping Lafferty.
A local journalist had fancifully likened Lucian Sanmartaen to the great Gheorge Hagi in a pre-match press conference and the playmaker did his best to add some flair to the occasion with a couple of darting runs.
But it was out-of-favour Tottenham defender Vlad Chiriches who drew the first save of the game, producing a nimble bicycle kick that Carroll gathered after an initial fumble.
Northern Ireland went close at the other end within moments, Lafferty burrowing into the box before Brunt slid a low shot just wide of the far post.
An opening goal now seemed imminent and Chipciu had two glorious chances to find it in the 17th minute.
He looked certain to score when he met a perfect cross just six yards out but his crisp volley rebounded off the underside of the crossbar.
The ball then bounced over Carroll's head and fell invitingly for a second attempt, but this time Chipciu's header looped straight to the grateful keeper.
By the time the half-hour mark passed the game already had the descended into one-way traffic.
Aaron Hughes and McAuley were fighting fires in the centre, clearing, intercepting and heading away a raft of crosses and through balls, while McGinn was struggling to cover McLaughlin on the right.
A slice of magic from Sanmartaen should have ended the resistance in the 32nd minute as he outpaced Corry Evans, weaved his way past McAuley and McLaughlin and cut the ball across goal for Bogdan Stancu to slot home.
But the striker lost his footing at the crucial moment, fluffing his connection completely from five yards and allowing Hughes to mop up.
Goal threat at the other end was virtually non-existent but the willing Lafferty did manage to work Ciprian Tatarusanu at his near post having counter-attacked just before the interval.
The home fans' patience had just started to waver when the long-awaited goal finally came 16 minutes from time.
Rat played provider, whipping in an awkward cross from left wing that McAuley could only fling a trailing leg at.
The ball landed nicely for Paul Papp and he left Carroll no chance from 10 yards.
That knocked the stuffing from Northern Ireland and it was no surprise to see a second goal five minutes later, Papp again arriving in the right place to nod home Sanmartaen's cross at the far post.
There was no coming back now, with Billy McKay's late arrival as a second striker merely window dressing.
Northern Ireland: Carroll, Conor McLaughlin, McGivern, McAuley, Baird, Hughes, Brunt, Evans, Norwood, McGinn, Lafferty. Subs: Mannus, McCullough, Clingan, McKay, Lund, McCourt, McNair, Grigg, Magennis, Reeves, McGovern.
Romania: Tatarusanu, Papp, Chiriches, Grigore, Rat, Pintilii, Sanmartean, Torje, Chipciu, Tanase, Stancu. Subs: Pantilimon, Luchin, Hoban, Puscas, Bicfalvi, Moti, Gardos, Prepelita, Lung Jr, Keseru, Sepsi.
Belfast Telegraph Digital