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Seamus Coleman’s scrappy 56th minute opener perfectly summed up Ireland’s win over a dogged Georgia at the Aviva, as Martin O’Neill’s men kept pace at the top of Group D with an uninspiring return to Lansdowne Road against a side who outmatched them across the statistics.
A dirty win in the qualifying stage is nothing new to the Irish, see Kevin Doyle’s strike in Kazakhstan and as recently as our last hosting of the Georgians.
This one again may be some cause for concern for those outside the Irish camp, but with John O’Shea coming on to replace Long in the final minutes the Irish boss clearly wasn’t interested in the goals column.
“We didn’t get close enough in the opening minutes…” surmised O’Neill afterwards “…we didn’t do enough hard work in the first-half. We didn’t have enough of the ball, and needed to do the ugly work which we didn’t.
“When we started to work we started to get the chances, but we’re not kidding ourselves, we didn’t play well enough.”
In June it was the French who would send Ireland packing from the Euros, and as this one began at home it was another Frenchman who would feel the anger of the home contingent; first James McClean and then Shane Long had legitimate calls for a spot kick waved away by referee Tony Chapron.
The groans of discontent began to sound around the national stadium as Ireland’s forwards struggled to link up in the opening half-hour, and eight minutes before the break it turned to gasps of horror, first as Levan Mchedlidze headed Tornike Okriashvili’s cross off the underside of the crossbar before Jano Ananidze also hit the woodwork with his follow-up header.
Nervy stuff for the hosts. The mood didn’t improve as Valeri Kazaiskvili somehow beat Ciarán Clark to the ball despite a several yard disadvantage, forcing Randolph to save before the West Ham United netminder had his palms stung at the near post by Mchedlidze.
As drab as the game was into the second-half the largest cheer was reserved for a pitch-invader that had taken advantage of a Georgia stoppage.
That was, until, 55 minutes in, when talismanic right-back Seamus Coleman burst down the right, cut past Giorgi Navalovski, and decided to take on the entire away defence who allowed the Irish captain to virtually walk the ball into the back of the net with a little help from Walters.
It only confirmed the Georgian vulnerability down the flank that had been so evident from the opening exchanges, and within three minutes a Walters cross saw James McClean finish unmarked at the back post, only denied by the linesman’s flag.
Martin O’Neill spoke how his Ireland players were ‘dropping like flies’ before the game; he hadn’t made a substitution until Robby Brady, newly donning namesake Keane’s number 10, went down in a heap after a nasty collision with Solomon Kverkvelia.
The Norwich City man was stretchered off with oxygen and a neck brace, giving the Ireland manager yet another headache ahead of Sunday’s trip to Moldova.
Also missing will be Jeff Hendrick, who picked up his second booking already of the campaign for a late challenge on Navalovski.
Seven minutes of added time saw McClean rattle the same crossbar that denied a Georgian opener earlier in the evening, but when O’Neill introduced O’Shea for Shane Long it was clear a scrappy 1-0 win would do.
Ireland: D Randolph; S Coleman, S Duffy, C Clark, S Ward; J McCarthy, J Hendrick, R Brady (G Whelan 82); J Walters, S Long (J O’Shea 90+4), J McClean.
Georgia: G Loria; O Kakabadze, S Kverkvelia, G Kashia, G Navalovski (A Kobakhidze 89); M Daushvili (N Katcharava 90+3), V Gvilla, V Kazaishvili; T Okriashvili, J Ananidze (D Skhirtladze 73); L Mchedlidze.