If the opening night of Northern Ireland’s latest World Cup qualifying campaign, against Italy, unsurprisingly yielded no blue riband return, then last night, at Windsor Park, the visit of Bulgaria had box seat potential for Ian Baraclough’s men to get up and running in Group C.
he dreariness of a 0-0 draw epitomised a virtually inexplicable flatness in parts with the national team, when even an unsophisticated cavalier charge may have made the difference. This is something supporters will have most trouble coming to terms with today.
The pressure to win these games at home comes with the modern territory, particularly in view of a barren, if unfortunate, seam of form and 10 members of the squad still surviving from the hazy days of Euro 2016.
Inevitably there will be questions of how long this spirit will realistically last, due to a nervous evening, a spartan of overall attack-minded quality, which has essentially killed chances of qualification. Despite the dominance dotted through the second half, what would have been a clinical, priceless winner proved beyond Northern Ireland.
The Green and White Army, in absentia, needed something to hope for. Goals, in truth, are the only currency of confidence for the men in green - and it is their ongoing responsibility to ask questions of teams intent on defending for a point.
Occasionally, at crucial junctures, it really is all about the end eventually justifying the means. And it was imperative that a resourceful and full-strength Northern Ireland dredged up victory to maintain hopes of a play-off place in the 2022 finals, particularly against the visitors, arriving with a paltry two wins in 24 matches.
The nation's World Cup hopes lie deflated on a night marked by such a disappointing lack of width, of innovation, squeezed out when the time came for triumph.
While the target of four points from the opening two group games was always a tall order - as it so transpired with the loss in Italy - the arrival of the below-par Bulgars in south Belfast was a task keenly welcomed by Baraclough and his players.
With Yasen Patrov's outfit, 68th in Fifa rankings, enduring a 2-0 defeat against the group favourite Italians on Sunday, Northern Ireland, conversely, were able to rest a host of key individuals and send out a makeweight side in the friendly versus the United States.
How could the hosts not make capital from such obvious advantage?
Rookie Bulgaria keeper Daniel Naumov needed testing - and Stuart Dallas' header hitting the bar amid a challenging first half somewhat typifies fortunes for this team under Baraclough's guidance.
Bulgaria were already operating a damage limitation strategy, having also lost to the Swiss and, as Baraclough expected, they lined-up with a compact and physical back five.
Northern Ireland, with a full-strength pool, asserted themselves, despite the staccato partnership between Josh Magennis and Gavin Whyte - a wider concern for the remainder of the campaign. A lack of conviction in the final third, is a repeated, genuine soreness.
Baraclough needed to make a change at the break to shake up the lethargy. His decision to send out the same eleven after the break reveals a risk averse streak, which is seriously hampering efforts.
The national stadium may have had the appearance of an empty palette - but this was still the captain's table, as Davis dashed around, trying to advance the cause.
As long as his 36-year-old body is able, then the Rangers star - a rare example of a modern professional unwilling to seek out excuses - will put it on the line for his country. That this, a 126th international appearance and new British record for the Cullybackey native, was played in front of a surreal Windsor Park scene is a matter of regret for all concerned.
Always modest, always quietly and efficiently demonstrative, Northern Ireland's skipper, his 73rd with the armband, deserved the most raucous platform of acclaim the Green and White Army could have provided under normal circumstances. Fortunately, there should be enough time for a full and handsome public tribute for Davis and his admirable longevity, hopefully in the near future.
As was the conspicuous case with last autumn's Euro 2020 play-off defeat to Slovakia, no answers, however, were forthcoming in killer areas against a hard-working but ultimately beige Bulgaria, which is making life so hard as Baraclough's early period unfortunately mirrors that of predecessor Michael O'Neill.
A scarcity of goals in those dozen previous outings provides stark evidence as to the fundamental issue facing the manager as he attempts to establish the most potent blend up front. Niall McGinn replaced an anonymous Whyte, but the challenge of administering ruthlessness seems impossibly elusive, with the side still looking for their first Group C goal.
As McGinn went close on a couple of occasions at the end, the exasperation felt sharply real. Ironically, Peacock-Farrell denied the Bulgars a shock win with a superb save late on from Dimitar Illiev.
Although there are a couple of back-to-back friendlies against Turkey and Ukraine coming up at the end of the season - essentially workaday affairs - the primary focus is without doubt, the away tie versus Lithuania in September. Following this stalemate, which, frankly, felt like a defeat, it will be time, as Baraclough suggested, to go for the throat.
Northern Ireland have little choice now.