Lafferty hurt by Romania defeat
Striker Kyle Lafferty believes Northern Ireland suffered from a lack of self-belief as they surrendered their flawless Euro 2016 record in Romania.
Having kicked off the campaign with maximum points from their first three matches, Michael O'Neill's side came undone in Bucharest, picked apart by a fluent side who sealed a 2-0 success with a second-half brace from defender Paul Papp.
There is no shame in a Northern Ireland team losing to such opponents, particularly on their own patch, and the effort expended for 74 scoreless minutes is a cause of some pride.
After slipping into the fifth seeding pot for the European qualifiers last year, it might easily have been seen as par for the course.
But buoyed by the recent upturn, Lafferty feels able to see the game as a missed opportunity.
"I don't know if we believed in ourselves," he admitted following a thankless and isolated shift up front.
"I know they are a good team but we were a shadow of the side that played in the last three games.
"The only time we started to pass the ball around was when we went a goal down. Before that it was clearing the ball up field rather than trying to keep possession.
"After the three great wins we should have been coming here full of confidence but I felt we allowed them to come on to us."
Lafferty, often criticised for a lack of maturity during his career, is doing his best to shake that tag.
Three goals and three man-of-the-match performances prior to Bucharest prove the on-field work is paying off and his thoughtful assessment of Northern Ireland's first Group F setback provided further evidence of his growth.
He even found the strength of mind to question O'Neill's pre-match assertion that the side's remarkable start to the pool made Friday a "bonus match".
"Everyone was saying we could afford to lose this one and I think the manager even admitted getting anything here was a bonus, but I really felt we could have got a decent result and we didn't," he explained.
"Every player fought hard and we always put everything into it, the fans hopefully know that, that we'll fight until the end, but we need quality performances as well as heart and endeavour.
"It would have been good if we could have played Romania in a double header so we could have had the chance to rectify things. But that's not the case and now we have to wait for four months before we play again."
The Norwich forward did not excuse himself from his harsh critique of the game, despite turning in a solid display while feeding on scraps.
"I wasn't pleased with my own performance," he said.
"I should be doing better because I've played against better centre-halves, even in the last three games and most definitely in my career.
"I'm used to playing up front on my own for Northern Ireland, I'll never moan about that, but I think my hold up play was a bit poor.
"The distance from myself to midfield was massive. That's not me having a pop at the midfield, they were just being put under so much pressure, it forced them back and created a huge gap between me and them.
"I've managed to score goals against Hungary, the Faroes and Greece but sadly I couldn't add to my tally out there."