Gareth McAuley was sent off in the second half as Northern Ireland laboured to a grim goalless draw at lowly Cyprus.
The trip to Nicosia was seen as an ideal chance for manager Michael O'Neill to register a first away win as boss and end an embarrassing sequence of no goals in away friendlies since 2006.
But his side managed neither, often outplayed by opponents ranked 122nd in the world, and forced to hang on when West Brom defender McAuley was harshly dismissed in the 75th minute for a late tackle on Dimitris Christofi.
Northern Ireland have now won just once in their last 20 outings, albeit against Russia, and any optimism created by a kind qualifying group for Euro 2016 will have partially evaporated after they once again failed to put away a lesser light.
Things may have been different had Martin Paterson's 12th-minute header not been brilliantly saved, but there was little excuse for the lack of another clear-cut chance in the remaining 68 minutes.
The fixture had clearly failed to grab the attention of the Nicosia public, with the lure of free entry not enough to tempt more than a scattering of home fans, who were comfortably out-sung by a hardy away contingent.
It briefly seemed as though the contest on the pitch would follow a similar pattern as Northern Ireland dominated the ball in the opening exchanges.
Jamie Ward took an early run at Charis Kyrakou and, when his cross was cleared, Chris Brunt's volleyed effort was bravely blocked.
Paterson must have thought he had opened the scoring in the 12th minute when he rose at the near post to meet Niall McGinn's right-wing cross.
The Huddersfield striker did everything right but, unfortunately for him, so did the alert goalkeeper Antonis Giorgallidis, who clawed the ball back to safety.
That was as good as it got for O'Neill's men in the opening period.
Northern Ireland lost their shape as the half progressed and were content to survive unscathed.
O'Neill made two changes during the interval, though he would have been forgiven had he made more drastic surgery.
Roy Carroll and Kyle Lafferty were summoned in placed of Mannus and Paterson, with Lafferty ending a six-month absence from the national side.
A promising break opened up in the 50th-minute, Brunt making big inroads down the left and offloading to Ward, who got the ball trapped under his feet before he could bring Lafferty into play.
The Derby forward went closer seven minutes later, feeding off McGinn's reverse pass but dragging his shot a yard wide across goal.
Things were picking up for the visitors, but wasteful long-range efforts from Norwood and Brunt betrayed a lack of composure.
O'Neill went to his bench in pursuit of the win, sending on Billy McKay, Paddy McCourt and Shane Ferguson.
But, with 75 minutes gone, it became a salvage job when McAuley was shown a harsh red card.
His challenge on Christofi was clumsy but there was hardly a scoring opportunity on the cards.