Relieved O’Neill looks to future tests after Georgia victory

Subdued display from Ireland rescued by moment of individual excellence

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill celebrates his team’s victory over Georgia. Photograph: Paul Childs/Reuters

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill celebrates his team’s victory over Georgia. Photograph: Paul Childs/Reuters

 

Next up: the world champions. This long, fitful journey towards next summer’s European championships in France has been reduced to a grim game of blink between the Republic of Ireland and Scotland.

A point-blank goal from Jon Walters gave Ireland a 1-0 win over Georgia to soothe the nerves of a fretful home support in the Aviva Stadium on Monday night. Over in Glasgow, Gordon Strachan’s team went down 3-2 to world champions Germany.

Martin O’Neill was reluctant to see the night as a turning point. “I am not so sure. I am delighted to have won the game. Just with the games ahead, I don’t think we should start to get ahead of ourselves. We have opened up a bit of a gap but the head-to-head with Scotland may come into play yet. It is still in our own hands. But we have two incredibly difficult games to come.”

Still, the defining weeks of O’Neill’s campaign are upon him. In his first months in charge, the Derry man drummed his fingers and just about disguised his impatience through an interminable series of friendly fixtures. Now the critical nights are coming thick and fast.

Little wonder he shook his fist after Walter’s 69th minute salvation – the big Stoke man was perfectly placed to bundle the ball home after Jeff Hendrick’s sublime turn of balance and deft touch along Georgia’s left flank left three defenders flailing in his wake.

Second Captains

Out of the blue

“It came right out of the blue,” O’Neill smiled. “It was a great, great run and to keep the little bit of composure too with the final ball coming in and hoping someone would come in as Jon did . . . great play by Jeff. He has a lot on his plate with Derby buying a few new players and he is determined to keep his place there but for us he is growing in stature.”

For the previous hour, Georgia had shown every intention for making life as unpleasant for the Irish as they had for the Scots a week ago.

Ireland made heavy weather of the first half. With the Aviva stadium half empty – 27,100 was the official attendance – and lapsing into periodic bouts of silence, it was at times more fun imagining what was happening over in Scotland than watching what was happening in the field below. It took 22 minutes for Ireland to win their first corner.

The only really promising threat on Nukri Revishvili’s goal came from a beautifully whipped right foot volley from Seamus Coleman, which the Georgian goalkeeper pushed wide of his right post.

Wes Hoolahan and Robbie Brady flickered around Georgia’s left flank but the visitors were perfectly happy to crowd out their box, leaving it a struggle to see Robbie Keane, let alone pick him out with a cross. A long ball over the top by Hendrick sent Keane scuttling free but even in his years of peak speed he wouldn’t have latched on to that pass.

After the first 20 minutes the Georgians became buoyed by Ireland’s ordinariness. They began to press forward and Tornick Okriashvili attempting a bicycle kick on Shay Given’s goal indicated Georgia’s mood. He hadn’t the remotest intention of scoring but they weren’t exactly fearful of what the night held either.

Class apart

Walters’s goal came in the midst of Ireland’s brightest period of play. Seamus Coleman looked a class apart as the night became chillier and twice linked with Hoolahan to slip through Georgia’s cover and the visitors began to wilt as Ireland pressed up with greater urgency and belief.

James McClean came close to gilding the night with a thunderous left foot shot in the 90th minute which merited a show of acrobatics from Revishvili. It was another tantalising glimpse of his potential but McClean will miss the Germany match after picking up a yellow card 20 seconds after entering the game as a substitution.

More critically, Glenn Whelan, an authoritative figure against Georgia, will also miss out after receiving a yellow for dissent. “I said here in June that there would be a few twists and turns,” O’ Neill said. “Winning football matches is not easy and winning away is not easy. We have a long way to go. We have the world champions next. And we need to find a win. Germany are the world champions and at this minute are possibly the best team in Europe and we will have to do better for 90 minutes.”

Ireland play Germany in the Aviva on October 8th and then visit Warsaw to play the closing match in Poland. Down to the wire, then. As usual.

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