Northern Ireland U21s were always fighting uphill battle once Hazard saw red, says Baraclough
Northern Ireland Under-21 boss Ian Baraclough believes Conor Hazard's first-half red card transformed Monday night's Euro 2021 qualifier in Romania where the visitors lost 3-0.
Hazard was sent off after colliding with Romanian midfielder Dennis Man, who reached a through ball just before the Celtic goalkeeper.
The skipper's dismissal meant Northern Ireland were reduced to 10 men with Liam Hughes coming on to go into goal and Manchester United midfielder Ethan Galbraith sacrificed in the substitution.
Hughes produced some saves before the break but could do little in the second period as the Romanians made their numerical advantage pay and scored three times without reply.
"We started very positively, our shape was good and we had a couple of half chances before Conor got sent off," said Baraclough. "It was a game changer. If it happens in the middle of the park and two midfielders go for the ball and one gets in just ahead, it's a yellow card at most.
"They have both gone for the ball. Their player got in just ahead of Conor but Conor's eyes were on the ball and there was nothing malicious about it. They've clashed heads and the way they fell to the ground made it look worse than it was.
"I thought Liam had a fantastic debut because it was a baptism of fire for him."
The result leaves it extremely difficult for Northern Ireland to qualify. Baraclough's boys have claimed two points from their first four games and are fifth in the table behind Denmark (nine points), Finland (seven), Romania (six) and Ukraine (three).
Next up is a home qualifier with Romania in November which Northern Ireland need to win if they have any hope of finishing in the top two in the group, which would at least guarantee a play-off.
Prior to losing in Romania, Baraclough's side were also defeated in Denmark but the manager says there were positives from the October double-header.
"We walk away with our heads held high. It is tough losing and we take it on the chin but there are still plenty of positives to come out of it," said Baraclough.
"We created chances and could have been 2-0 up before they scored. We were a threat and until the sending off it was a very even game. There are things we can improve on but there's nothing to be worried about when Romania come. There's a lot to be pleased about and we will come back stronger."