McGeady’s stunner earns Ireland full reward in Georgia
Everton midfielder grabs second goal in final minute against Georgia
Aiden McGeady opens the scoring the Republic of Ireland in their Euro 2016 qualifying, Group D match at the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena in Tbilisi. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA
Georgia 1 Republic of Ireland 2
More than a decade after they last came to Tbilisi and broke the locals’ hearts with a late winner, Ireland did it again last night and so started a qualifying campaign with a precious away win for the fourth time on the trot.
The victory had echoes of the 2003 game with just a hint of Kazaskhstan about it too and the locals will feel more than a little hard done by but Ireland won fair and square, despite a largely indifferent performance with Temur Ketsbaia’s men punished for dropping their guard as the end approached.
Gary Doherty got the winner last time while Aiden McGeady got both tonight. That should be less of a surprise given the 28 year-old’s attacking talent but to put it in context, he had scored just three in his previous 69 appearances.
The midfielder, though, looked sharp in midweek and shone here. He, at least, continues to look like he is reacting positively to the appointment of his former Celtic boss as manager but not everyone or everything was transformed and there were long periods when O’Neill’s side struggled to assert themselves against determined opponents, despite having a lot of the ball and the better of the chances.
O’Neill had made his mark before the game with his team selection. The biggest surprise, perhaps, was the decision to hand Stephen Quinn his first competitive international start but there wasn’t too revolutionary about the rest of the line up with Stephen Ward retained at left back and Jon Walters back out on the right again despite not having really trained all week.
Things started quite brightly with Ireland pressing from the outset and creating the odd half chance. Perhaps most encouragingly, though, Georgia looked to have precious little to offer in attack.
Robbie Keane’s supporting cast of three applied themselves well, expending a lot of energy to chase down opponents and the locals struggled to get the ball any distance forward. Things were so one sided at that stage that after 20 minutes there was considerable excitement in the stadium when Georgia managed to string a handful of passes together beyond halfway but on the rare occasions they ventured any further forward lone striker Nikoloz Gelashvili looked hopelessly stranded and for the Irish, gathering then getting things moving up-field again was a straightforward enough affair.
When they played it back into their hosts’ half, Séamus Coleman’s pace down the right, where he consistently had the beating of Davit Kvirkvelia looked a likely way to unlock the home side’s defence. Ireland, in fact, managed a handful of good crosses over the course of the game and one in the second half from the Donegalman required Kvirkvelia to get in a very good clearance as Walters lurked behind him, waiting to apply the finish.
In another sign that the new manager is not entirely adverse to the ways of the old, though, the goal that gave Ireland the lead started with a long flicked on kick-out. Walters got the touch, Keane added a back-heel and McCarthy, having made already made a strong start to the game, kept his head to tee up McGeady after which his Everton team-mate coolly lifted the ball over the oncoming goalkeeper to find the bottom right corner.
The hope in the Irish dugout at that stage must have been that the team would hang on to their lead long enough to start having a great deal more space to exploit late on as the Georgians chased things but it never got to anything like that stage. Having failed to score a competitive goal since the opening game of the last campaign, Georgia’s standout player, Tornike Okriashvili, made the most of the freedom he was given by Stephen Ward and John O’Shea to turn 25 yards out before unleashing a cracking right footed shot that looped into the top right corner, well beyond the reach of Forde who might have been a little unsighted but who certainly looked surprised.
From that point on it could have gone either way. Both sides created chances but neither produced a finish worthy of a winner. Ireland continued to have more of the play but Okriashvili and Jano Ananidze provided occasional reminders that the game was still very much up for grabs with Forde required to be alert around his six yards box on more than one occasion.
In front of him, Marc Wilson did especially well and the Stoke City defender rounded off a good night by starting the move that led to the winner. His pass out to the right found Coleman who skipped down the line as he had done all night.
This time, though, he cut the back deeper, to the edge of the area where McGeady was waiting. It was a nice move but it required a bit of finishing. The midfielder provided it with a flourish, trapping the ball then dragging the ball onto his left foot then letting fly to the top left corner.
The prolonged celebration, not just on the pitch but on the bench and amongst the Irish fans behind the goal reflected the importance of the strike. For all the talk of competing this time and perhaps making an historic breakthrough, last night’s opponents still look like a side with the potential to decide qualifying races run between others rather than hold their own in one themselves.
Ireland have done what was required in Tbilisi. Now it is up to Scotland and Poland.
Georgia: Loria (OFI Crete); Lobjanidze (Omonia), Kverkvelia (Rubin Kazan), Kashia (Vitesse), Khubitia (Hapoel Petah Tikva), Kvirkvelia (Rubin Kazan); Okriashvili (Racing Genk), Kankava (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Daushvili (Karpaty Lviv), Ananidze (Spartak Moscow); Gelashvili (Flamurtari). Subs: Kvaskhvadze (Othelos) for Loria (half-time), Targamadze (Ilichevets) for Ananidze (62 mins), Mchedlidze (Empoli) for Okriashvili (88 mins).
Republic of Ireland: Forde (Millwall); Coleman (Everton), O’Shea (Sunderland), Wilson (Stoke City), Ward (Burnley; Whelan (Stoke City), McCarthy (Everton); Walters (Stoke City), Quinn (Hull City), McGeady (Everton; Keane (LA Galaxy). Subs: Long (Southampton) for Keane and Brady (Hull City) for Quinn (75 mins), Meyler (Hull City) for McCarthy (90 mins).
Referee: K Blom (Netherlands).