Northern Ireland's hopes of qualifying for Euro 2012 from Group C suffered a setback as Serbia came from a goal down to win 2-1 in Belgrade on Friday night.
Gareth McAuley scored with a looping header into the top corner from Chris Brunt's left-foot free-kick in the 15th minute, his second international goal.
Marko Pantelic levelled when he turned and unleashed a low left-foot shot under Lee Camp after 65 minutes. Zoran Tosic scored the winner with a shot from the edge of the area on 74. Worthington's side were trying to extend their unbeaten run in Group C to four matches at the almost deserted Crvena Zvezda Stadium in Belgrade.
Only 240 Northern Ireland supporters and a handful of officials from both countries were in attendance as Serbia were forced to play the game behind closed doors following crowd trouble at their European qualifier against Italy in Genoa last year. Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington put his trust in youth as Craig Cathcart, Jonny Gorman and Corry Evans were all named in the starting line-up.
The first chance of the game fell to Brunt but his left-foot effort flew just wide of the post in the 13th minute. Two minutes later McAuley cleared a Branislav Ivanovic shot off the line at the other end of the pitch. Serbia squandered a wonderful chance to break the deadlock in the 22nd minute when Adem Ljajic fired over the bar from close range under pressure from two Northern Ireland defenders.
Soon after, Dejan Stankovic tried a speculative shot from 25 yards but debutant goalkeeper Lee Camp easily gathered the ball. Northern Ireland took the lead in the 40th minute when McAuley scored with a looping header into the top corner from Brunt's inswinging left-foot free-kick from the right.
Kyle Lafferty could have extended the visitors' lead two minutes later when he beat a defender but shot over the bar from 15 yards when well placed to score. Record goalscorer David Healy replaced his Rangers team-mate Lafferty at the start of the second half and almost made an immediate impact.
Gorman floated in a cross from the left wing but Neven Subotic cleared the ball off the foot of Healy as he prepared to shoot. Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Camp made his mark in the 53rd minute, making a spectacular reflex save after Ivanovic met a corner with a strong header. The ball fell loose on the goal-line but Gorman hacked the ball clear.
Healy then received a yellow card for handling the ball, a booking which rules him out of Tuesday night's game against Slovenia in Belfast. Serbia levelled in the 65th minute when the ball broke to Pantelic inside the area and he turned sharphy and unleashed a low left-foot shot under Camp. The home side continued to exert pressure and Aleksandr Kolarov danced his way past two defenders but his shot was deflected wide for a corner.
The pressure eventually paid off when Milos Ninkovic went on a surging run and passed the ball to Tosic, whose shot from the edge of the box flew into the net past Camp, with the aid of a slight deflection off Craig Cathcart. Worthington introduced Warren Feeney and Pat McCourt as substitutes but his side were unable to fashion an opportunity to equalise.
Serbia: Brkic, Ivanovic, Subotic, Bisevac, Kolarov, Tosic, Ljajic, Krasic, Stankovic, Milijas, Pantelic.
Subs: Saranov, Jovanovic, Petrovic, Obradovic, Ninkovic, Trivunovic, Ilic.
Northern Ireland: Camp, Cathcart, McAuley, Hughes, J Evans, C Evans, Baird (capt), Clingan, Gorman, Brunt, Lafferty
Substitutes: Tuffey, Craigan, Thompson, McCann, Healy, Feeney, McCourt