Nigel Worthington expects Steven Davis to bounce back after his error dealt Northern Ireland’s hopes of reaching Euro 2012 a critical blow.
Davis gifted Serbia the only goal of last night’s Group C qualifier when his ill-conceived back pass handed Marko Pantelic a simple finish.
That punctured Northern Ireland’s hopes of taking second place and Estonia’s away win over Slovenia made things even worse, sending them down to fifth.
Worthington was particularly disappointed by the manner of the defeat, with Davis’ mistake coming just as the hosts had finally started to pressurise a Serbia side that had dominated the first 45 minutes.
“It’s hugely disappointing for one of our top-class professionals in Steven Davis,” said Worthington.
“It’s a cruel way to lose a game of football.
“But that’s football. It does happen and unfortunately it happened to us.”
Davis’ mistake leaves Northern Ireland dangerously short of points and confidence ahead of Tuesday’s match in Estonia, but Worthington is looking for the Rangers midfielder to produce a big response.
“You look at all the good things Steven has done for this team in the last four years and you give him all the support you can,” said Worthington.
“But he’s a seasoned professional, he knows the game and he’ll be able to deal with it and go again.”
Things started to go wrong for Worthington well before kick-off when Kyle Lafferty, Paddy McCourt and Sammy Clingan were ruled out.
Lafferty and McCourt – both first-choice starters – have been struggling with calf injuries and will not make the trip to Tallinn for the Estonia clash, while Clingan is hopeful of travelling after missing out with illness.
Despite the trio’s absence, Worthington was pleased with his team’s effort.
“We played a very, very good side and they had a lot of possession, which you expect,” said Worthington.
“But we tweaked one or two things at half-time and the players were excellent in the second half.
“We had a lot of play, created one or two half-chances and I couldn’t fault the effort over the course of the game. They put in a real shift and I’m gutted for everyone.”
As well as injuries, Worthington must also deal with suspensions for Jonny and Corry Evans, both of whom picked up second yellow cards last night and will be absent against Estonia.
With Italy running away with the group, Serbia manager Vladimir Petrovic was pleased to his side move into pole position for a play-off place.
“We played very well,” he said.
“Maybe in the second half we had a few weaknesses in defence but that was down to our wish to be better and stronger in attack.
“We missed so many chances in the first half but we really wanted to score the first goal.
“We finally did that and I am satisfied with the efforts of the team.”