Ian Baraclough was left frustrated as Northern Ireland's winless run continued with a 2-1 friendly defeat to the United States at Windsor Park.
With Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria looming large, Northern Ireland suffered an all-too-familiar outcome in Belfast as a positive performance went unrewarded, with goals from Gio Reyna and Christian Pulisic putting the Americans in charge before Niall McGinn's excellent late strike.
Baraclough is yet to win inside 90 minutes after 10 games in charge – his only victory to date the penalty shoot-out against Bosnia last year – a run that he said must end on Wednesday if his side are to have realistic hopes of reaching Qatar 2022.
"I hate losing games of football," Baraclough said. "I'll take the flack off the players, that's not a problem, and what is written is not a problem. I know we're going in the right direction, getting together and integrating a good group of players.
"It's something you've got to be patient with at times, but if we're not counting Bosnia then I want to get that first victory."
The Bulgaria match may only be the second game of the qualifying campaign, but it has been described as a "must-win" game and Baraclough did not argue with that description.
"I've gone on record before and said that if we want to be in the top two, we have to win games like Bulgaria at home," he said.
"That's no disrespect to Bulgaria, but we don't want to be going into September, the next time we play, having not recorded a victory in the first two games and then having to chase it. We'd probably have to go and beat the Swiss twice, so (a win) would relieve some of the pressure."
After the positive signs showed in the second half of the defeat to Italy, there was again much to be encouraged by as a youthful side featuring 10 changes were on top before Reyna's deflected strike with half an hour gone.
They then fell further behind just before the hour when Pulisic scored a disputed penalty, with replays showing Dan Ballard got a touch on the ball before bringing down the Chelsea forward.
"It's disappointing that we've lost the game 2-1," the manager said. "I don't think it was a penalty. I've seen it in there and a couple of people have told me by text it was never a penalty. It's disappointing that you're going into the final 20 minutes 2-0 down.
"It knocks the stuffing out of you a little bit."
Sandwiched between two qualifiers, a friendly of this nature had been questioned for its value, but though it ended with another taste of defeat, Baraclough said it had been a worthwhile experience.
"We've seen performances from players that told me they wanted to be in the starting line-up on Wednesday," he said.
"There's always something to work on and it gives the lads experience to guide them forward. We know if we press well with intensity we'll cause anybody problems and create changes. We've only got Niall's strike to show for it when we know we should have had more.
"People perhaps question a game like this but I was excited about it. We knew it would be a test and that they would play pretty much a full side, so for the likes of Dan Ballard and Ciaron Brown, coming up against Pulisic and Daryl Dike, who is doing so well at Barnsley, it's great experience."
The penalty was Pulisic's 15th goal for the United States, who extended their unbeaten run to nine games following Thursday's 4-1 win over Jamaica.
"It always feels good to get on the scoresheet and it's definitely going to build confidence," Pulisic said.
"We're feeling good as a team and for me personally, going back to club level, I'm feeling confident and I've said I feel the best I've felt in my game so I'm excited for what's to come."