Romania and Northern Ireland could not be separated as their top-of-the-table Euro 2016 qualifier in Belfast ended goalless.
Group F leaders Romania inflicted the only defeat of the qualifying campaign to date on Michael O’Neill’s men when the teams met in Bucharest last November.
But they were unable to extend their advantage over Northern Ireland to four points on Saturday, as strong winds played their part in a disjointed contest before a raucous Windsor Park crowd.
Alexandru Chipciu wasted Romania’s clearest opening, while Kyle Lafferty twice came closest to securing all three points for the hosts late on.
The result bolsters Northern Ireland’s hopes of reaching a first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup. They sit two points above third-placed Hungary, who they host on the back of a trip to face the Faroe Islands in September.
O’Neill’s side began in confident fashion although, after Lafferty lost his footing inside the Romania box after eight minutes, they were largely restricted to speculative long-range efforts.
A jinking run from visiting winger Gabriel Torje lacked an end product, while Chipciu should have done better on the end of Keseru’s 33rd-minute throughball when he shot tamely at Michael McGovern.
McGovern was starting his first competitive international after abdominal pain ruled out Roy Carroll, and the Hamilton Academical goalkeeper suffered some discomfort of his own – clattering into the near post when he kept out Keseru’s right-wing corner.
Lafferty saw a clipped 20-yard effort deflected narrowly wide off Dragos Grigore – the Norwich City forward struggling to contain his fury when a goalkick was awarded – before Northern Ireland almost found the breakthrough two minutes before half-time.
A left-wing corner from Chris Brunt skipped across the box for Jonny Evans to head towards the top corner but Ciprian Tatarusanu saved superbly.
There was another close shave for Romania early in the second period when Stuart Dallas sent a venomous drive wide after Oliver Norwood’s free-kick was partially cleared.
Lafferty was unable to keep a 56th-minute header down, while the error-strewn nature of the half continued as Gareth McAuley was dispossessed to leave Torje charging towards goal.
Manchester United defender Evans got back to deflect Torje’s eventual shot fractionally past the post with McGovern beaten.
Norwood skewed a shot wide when he took aim for glory from 20 yards in the 76th minute and Lafferty twice came close to adding his sixth goal of the qualification campaign.
First, he was unable to find the decisive touch when Conor McLaughlin crossed on the end of Norwood’s wonderful crossfield pass before he shot too close to Tatarusanu after McAuley’s knockdown.
Tatarusanu then saved impressively from a swerving Norwood free-kick as Romania held out to remain in top spot.
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