Ireland salvage point from horror show in Tbilisi

Early Shane Duffy goal again seems to shock Martin O’Neill’s side into inaction

 

Georgia 1 Republic of Ireland 1

Like all good things, Ireland’s run of victories against Georgia had to come to an end and while Martin O’Neill will reflect on the late misses that might be viewed as having cost his side two points, the visitors did well enough to get one with their hosts dominating completely until the closing stages.

If Martin O’Neill hadn’t been so persuasive regarding the challenge he felt Georgia would present it could have been tempting during the first-half spell when they led to think they had come to test just how poorly they could play and still beat these opponents. Perhaps the improvement late on suggested a gameplan that revolved around the Georgians punching themselves out but there were certainly occasions before it when the visitors had to just hope that their hosts wouldn’t land a decisive blow.

Ireland, as they sometimes have before, got an early goal that seemed to shock them into inaction. It was the sort of thing that prompts caustic comments from opposing managers about the British game but nobody in green was complaining as Jon Walters won a free that Cyrus Christie lofted towards the team’s two centre halves at the far post.

The goalkeeper committed himself to coming a long way for the catch but made it only as far as Ciaran Clark who looked to have led with an arm that prevented his opponent gaining lift-off. Shane Duffy, inevitably, had no such problems and he picked a spot rather well with his header.

And so, we knew from early on that the hosts might not be entirely comfortable under a high ball from a set piece but that felt like a rather distant memory by the time Ireland had another.

By then, Vladimir Weiss’s side had pretty firmly established that they were the better of the two sides with the ball at their feet. Time and again, they worked their way forward to good effect with 24-year-old Spartak Moscow midfielder Jano Ananidze poking and prodding at the visitors with his passing from 25 or 30 metres out.

Ireland’s Harry Arter vies with Georgia’s Giorgi Kvilitaia during the World Cup group D qualifying match in Tbilisi. Photograph: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland’s Harry Arter vies with Georgia’s Giorgi Kvilitaia during the World Cup group D qualifying match in Tbilisi. Photograph: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images

Almost every ball reached a team-mate in space and several of the crosses that followed had the Irish scrambling about on the edge of their six-yard area to stay on top of things. Darren Randolph made an athletic stop from Otar Kakabadze out on the right and Duffy cut out a couple but the Georgians clearly had their backs up and O’Neill’s side looked incapable of putting a stop to the pressure.

The sense that it would lead to a goal built steadily and, sure enough, the locals pulled level with 11 minutes of the half to play. Ananidze, for the umpteenth time, was not effectively closed down and this time he threaded a low ball through for Valeri Kazaishvili who finished rather coolly as Randolph came running towards him.

If Ireland might have paused to take stock in similar circumstances, the Georgians just set about the search for another. They continued to dominate and while O’Neill might point to an early James McClean header that should have at least hit the target or a Duffy one from a corner a minute before half-time that the goalkeeper did well enough to save, but really it would have been something approaching a travesty had the visitors led at the break.

O’Neill’s holding midfielders fared little better after it, though, and one after the other they were replaced. Aiden McGeady’s arrival had some impact as the manager switched to 4-1-4-1 and when Daryl Murphy replaced Glenn Whelan, the side settled into a 4-4-2 that suddenly started to make a scrap of it a little further up the field.

Shane Long, who worked hard but had little service and almost no chances to score himself, picked out McClean six minutes from time but the winger couldn’t quite finish and McGeady then missed a clearcut chance to convert a Duffy knockdown in added time.

The Georgians had chances too, though, and having outplayed their visitors for the best part of the night were still carving them out on the break in the closing stages when the balance of play had, finally, altered a little.

At the end, their sense of disappointment at not having won was clear at the end and the Irish would surely have been relieved had it not be for the late chances. They should have anyway but another bit of the wriggle room they earned in the early part of the campaign is gone with Serbia still to come on Tuesday.

GEORGIA: Makaridze, Kashia, Kakabadze, Navalovski, Kvekveskiri, Ananidze, Kvirkvelia, Kazaishvili (Khocholava, 90+3 mins), Gvilia, Jigauri (Chanturia, 75 mins), Kvilitaia (Merebashvili, 85 mins). Yellow cards: Kvekveskiri (37 mins), Jigauri (62 mins).

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Randolph, Ward, Clark, Duffy, Christie, Whelan (Murphy, 79 mins), Brady, McClean, Arter (McGeady, 61 mins), Walters, Shane Long. Yellow card: McLean (76 mins).

Referee: Ivan Kruzliak (Slovakia)

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