With Italy, Switzerland and Lithuania making up the rest of Group C, qualification via the play-offs looked Northern Ireland’s most likely route to the 2022 tournament.
The hosts dominated the contest as captain Steve Davis made history with his 126th cap, making him the most capped British player. He overtook Peter Shilton’s record of 125.
Stuart Dallas, Paddy McNair, George Saville, Gavin Whyte and Josh Magennis all started at Windsor Park, meaning almost half of the home side’s line-up came from Yorkshire clubs.
Having lost 2-0 in Italy last week, last night’s result extended Ian Barraclough’s winless start as manager to 11 games.
Hull City’s Magennis had a few sights at goal in the first half but was unable to break the deadlock. He directed a close-range towards goal early on but it was gathered comfortably by Daniel Naumov in the Bulgaria goal.
Dallas hit the crossbar with a header midway through the first half. That was the closest either side came in the first half.
Bulgaria’s threat was meek before they were forced into a first-half change, losing captain Georgi Kostadinov to injury. He was replaced by Petar Vitanov.
Northern Ireland continued to look the more likely at the start of the second half with Magennis’s Hull teammate Gavin Whyte lashing an effort towards goal which required a sprawling Naumov to kept it out.
Substitute Niall McGinn almost opened the scoring as he chested the ball down and aimed a volley towards goal but to the hosts frustration it was just wide of the post.
In injury time, the visitors almost snatched victory when Dimitar Illiev sent a powerful header towards goal but Peacock-Farrell made a fine save as both sides settled for a point.
Northern Ireland: Peacock-Farrell; Lewis, Cathcart, Evans, Ballard (Smith 74), Dallas; Davis, McNair, Saville (Kennedy 74); Whyte (McGinn 64), Magennis (Lafferty 82). Unused substitutes: Hazard, Hughes, Thompson, McLaughlin Charles, Evans, McCann, Ferguson.
Bulgaria: Naumov; P Hristov, Antov, Chochev; A Hristov, Despodov, Kostadinov (Vitanov 44), Vutov (D Illiev 45), Tsvetanov (Karagaren 73) ; Yomov (Zanev 73), Galabinov (A Illiev 73). Unused substitutes: Karadzhov, P Iliev, Delev, I Illiev, Dimov, Bozhikov, Malinov.
Referee: Yigal Frid (ISR)
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