Sheffield United’s Danny Lafferty failed to make the bench as his Northern Ireland team mates suffered a heartbreaking 1-0 defeat to Switzerland in their World Cup qualifying play-off in Belfast.
Lafferty was the odd man out and watched from the sidelines as his country’s hopes of making it to Russia in the summer were dealt a devastating blow.
Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan inexplicably pointed to the spot in the second half when Xherdan Shaqiri’s shot hit the top of Blackburn Rovers midfielder Corry Evans’ arm when the Northern Ireland midfielder had his back turned.
Ricardo Rodriguez converted from the spot to give the Swiss a 1-0 lead going back to Basel on Sunday and Evans was booked to rub salt into the wound, meaning he will miss the second leg.
O’Neill was at a loss to explain the decision while also suggesting Switzerland defender Fabian Schar should have received a red card for a reckless early challenge on Stuart Dallas.
“It’s staggering really that the referee can give that penalty decision in that situation,” O’Neill said.
“He was six yards from the incident, he has no one in his line of sight.
“Corry has just gone to block it, his body is turned and the ball actually hits him more on the shoulder than the arm so it is incredible.
“I thought he had blown for a foul or for offside, so to give a penalty for that, when nobody appealed, it is bewildering really.
“In such a defining moment in the match we feel very hard done by.”
“The tackle by Schar was a borderline red card, the referee certainly didn’t do us any favours tonight.”