Martin Paterson dealt a major blow to Russia’s World Cup qualification hopes with the only goal in a 1-0 win for Northern Ireland in Belfast on Wednesday.
In a match twice postponed earlier in the year due to snow, Russia were hoping to go back to the top of European Group F, but they had not accounted for a plucky Northern Ireland display.
It leaves Fabio Capello’s team still two points adrift of group leaders Portugal, albeit with a game in hand.
However, a second straight group defeat for Russia, following a 1-0 reverse in Lisbon, has dramatically changed the complexion of the group, giving Portugal hope they can now top it just a couple of games after trailing Russia having played two games more.
It was a result Northern Ireland richly deserved having hit the post in the first half and having had a goal narrowly ruled out in the second period.
Although Russia looked dangerous at times, the home side attacked their visitors fearlessly.
On 41 minutes they almost had the lead when Jamie Ward cracked in a shot from long range that cannoned off the post and hit Dmitry Kombarov, before dropping into goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev’s arms.
However, just two minutes later, Paterson timed his jump perfectly to get above Vasili Berezutskiy to head in Niall McGinn’s cross from the right.
It could have been worse for Russia when Craig Cathcart won a header in the box and teed up Paterson to head home from close range on 58 minutes, only for it to be ruled out by a tight offside decision.