Séamus Coleman runs through Georgia to save Ireland’s blushes
Captain’s bizarre second-half goal comes after woeful opening 45 minutes
Republic of Ireland 1 Georgia 0
Vladimir Weiss said before this game that when he had taken over as Georgian coach he had shown his players reruns of the games in which they had been unlucky to lose. That, he suggested, included just about every one he had looked back over himself. They must have all made for painful viewing but none surely could have been as difficult to watch back as this. Guram Kashia and his team mates will peep at the screen through their fingers if they can bear to do even that.
Ireland were let off the hook here although the victory they escaped with ended up coming at a cost, for after Séamus Coleman had scored the game’s only goal, Robbie Brady was carried off with a head injury that looked, from a distance, serious enough to keep him out of Sunday’s game in Moldova while a Jeff Hendrick booking seven minutes from the end means with he will miss the game through suspension.
Martin O’Neill will curse his side’s ill fortune on those two fronts but Weiss and his players will wonder far beyond the weekend just how they lost their way so badly here.
Luck, of course, had little enough to do with it. Georgia had chances here to beat an utterly out of sorts Ireland but failed to take them. Then, when the hosts seemed to be going nowhere they produced one of the most unforgettably awful pieces of defending witnessed at the new Lansdowne Road. Giovanni Trapattoni used to go on about how the “little mistakes” could prove so costly. Well, somewhat inevitably, it turns out that the barn-sized blunders do too.
Coleman got the goal and, after a first half in which he was every bit as poor as most of team-mates, his part in it was rather impressive with the Everton defender going around left back Giorgi Navalovski the long way after which he was the beneficiary of much Georgian generosity.
First Kashia, then Soloman Kvirkvelia gave him the ball back as the Irish skipper simply kept moving in the direction of the goal from what should have been a hopeless angle until, having successfully swept the ball before him, he somehow emerged the other side of the bunch with a tap in to convert from a yard out.
To call it a breakthrough would flatter what had gone before for the home side had generally been second best before the break. Certainly, there had little to speak off by way of pressure on the capable looking Giorgi Loria in the Georgian goal.
Ireland, of course, have a long standing tendency to make life difficult for themselves, the fans are used to that, but this had been worse, much worse, in the first half when, once they got the measure of the home team, Georgia were comfortably the brighter, more composed and ambitious of the two teams.
Starting James McCarthy might have been a big call that simply didn’t work out for O’Neill but there were no shows early on all around the central midfielder. Coleman got himself into trouble more than once, prompting groans in the stands when he played very safe by going back to his own goalkeeper after an Irish corner had been cleared as far as him and then allowing Valeri Kazaishvili a shot when he was supposed to be shielding a well weighted Jano Ananidze through ball back to Darren Randolph.
Before the implosion for the goal, the visitors made few such blunders, certainly not when it came to getting themselves between an opponent and the ball – it seemed to be their only approach to handling James McClean who headed off the crossbar as his markers tired in the closing stages – and their goalkeeper was probably afforded too much protection by the French referee. But there was still no escaping the fact that Ireland were awful through those opening 45 minutes and not great during some of what followed too.
The low point came seven minutes before the break when Tornike Okrishvili, a persistent source of problems for the home side, floated in a cross and Levan Mchedlidze met it with a fine header that came clattering off the crossbar. Randolph could only stand and watch but when the ball stayed out the goalkeeper sprang back into life just in time to be stranded by Kashia’s follow-up effort which looped over him and came off the inside of the far post. The defence looked all over the place and it was simply good fortune that at that stage the ball fell to Hendrick who managed to hook it away.
Had Georgia scored then, who knows what might have happened but having looked as though they genuinely believed they could win early on, their heads went down after the goal and, as Ireland improved and finally started to generate a few decent chances of their own, the visitors never seriously looked as though they could raise themselves again in the way required to salvage a draw.
O’Neill and his players will console themselves in the way that they do that the win is a win and the crowd, to be fair, greeted the final whistle pretty warmly, although perhaps that was because they could go home. To be here for the great nights, it seems, the regulars must endure a few grim ones too. Hopefully that was their quota for this campaign, for it is hard to imagine any of the group’s better sides leaving empty handed if it was not.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Randolph (West Ham); Coleman (Everton), Duffy (Brighton), Clark (Newcastle United), Ward (Burnley); Hendrick (Burnley), McCarthy (Everton), Brady (Norwich); Walters (Stoke City), Long (Southampton), McClean (West Brom).
Subs: Whelan (Stoke City) for Brady (81 mins), O’Shea (Sunderland) for Long (90 mins).
GEORGIA: Loria; Kakabadze, Kvirkvelia, Kashia, Navalovski; Daushvili, Gvilia; Okriashvili, Ananidze, Kazaishvili; Mchedlidze.
Subs: Skhirtladze for Ananidze (74 mins), Kobakhidze for Navalovski (89 mins), Katcharaava for Daushvili (90 mins).
Referee: T Chapron (France).