St Johnstone goalkeeper Alan Mannus had a superb game for Northern Ireland as they drew 0-0 in an away friendly against Malta.
Mannus, winning his fifth cap, produced two spectacular stops from former Coventry attacker Michael Mifsud to keep the home side at bay.
Manager Michael O’Neill had hoped to secure his first win at the eighth time of asking but the visitors could not find a breakthrough, with Danny Lafferty seeing a first-half header ruled out for offside.
O’Neill selected his team with next month’s match in Belfast in mind, when Kyle Lafferty and Chris Baird are suspended.
Both were left at home and O’Neill gave Alex Bruce a debut in the holding role in midfield, with Walsall’s Will Grigg winning his second cap as a lone striker.
Aberdeen forward Niall McGinn hopes the divide has pointed the national team in the right direction for next month’s home World Cup qualifier against Russia.
McGinn said: “The biggest positive here is if Michael has found a system that will work against Russia, just because he has had that many young and new players available.
“Things have been going on behind the scenes, everyone has been working hard to try and get progress.
“And against Azerbaijan and Portugal the defence has been very good. We are bonding well as a team, we need to keep building on clean sheets if possible and build on that with some wins.”
McGinn plays as a striker for Aberdeen but again played wide right against Malta, although he did have one of his side’s best chances when he drifted into the middle but scuffed a second-half shot from Aaron Hughes’ pull-back.
The 25-year-old said: “Obviously I have been playing through the middle and I have enjoyed that for my club.
“It’s another cap but the most important thing is I keep doing well and keep myself in Michael’s plans. That’s all any of us want to do.
“The central midfield was really strong and Michael told me when Brunty (Chris Brunt) got on the ball I could cut inside. I thought Brunty was great and his range of passing was good, and that can only be a positive.”