Georgia 0 Ireland 0
Ireland got out of Tbilisi with a point after a poor performance in a poor game that the home side will feel they did comfortably enough to win.
Were it not for their finishing they would have a point, for despite dominating in terms of possession and opening play, it was Mick McCarthy's men who actually came closest to scoring over the course of the game, with John Egan hitting the post early on and Shane Duffy heading straight at the Georgian goalkeeper in the final seconds of the match.
“It was a tough afternoon,” the Derryman acknowledged immediately afterwards. “I don’t think we played our best, to be honest, but they played well, made us defend for long periods so we were feeding off scraps. It’s another point on the board, though.”
McCarthy had spoken on Friday of the need for his players to be good both with and without the ball, but in the event they managed to be neither through what was a particularly awful first half for them. Had Egan given the visitors the lead just four minutes in, the whole nature of what followed might have been transformed but as it was, his glancing header to a Conor Hourihane free came back out off the inside of the right-hand post and nobody was to come remotely as close to scoring again for a very long time.
The Georgians engineered their fair share of chances. Happily for McCarthy and his players, though, they were dreadful when it actually came to taking them and Darren Randolph didn't have to make a single save.
That said, the Middlesbrough goalkeeper was kept on his toes by a couple of the back passes directed at him early on. As with so much of what the Irish players did through the opening exchanges, the deliveries seemed anxious and uncertain and the Georgians must have taken huge encouragement from their opponents’ apparent inability to exert any sort of real control over the proceedings.
Ireland’s passing was persistently poor and their pressing game was nowhere to be seen, something that allowed the home side to construct some really decent passages of play from deep inside their own area.
What quality McCarthy's men showed came in far shorter bursts with Matt Doherty suddenly darting through a cluster of defenders, only for the ball to run out of play before he could cross, and Callum Robinson sending in a delightfully weighted curling cross that James McClean should really have been on to.
Robinson had a couple of other moments but generally looked a little lost again. McClean, meanwhile, was one of the worst offenders when it came to surrendering possession and he was very lucky not to have had an unintended hand in a breakaway goal for the hosts after a Hourihane corner swiftly led to a pretty poor Valeri Qazaishvili shot at the other end.
The wider problem, though, was that Ireland simply could not impose themselves on the proceedings, a problem that persisted almost until the final whistle. Towards the end of the first period, Hourihane could be seen just short of the halfway line imploring his team-mates, all of whom were behind him, to get further up the field. There was a slight improvement in the situation in the second half but the overall pattern of the game did not substantially change over the course of the 90 minutes.
McCarthy sought to shift things by bringing on Alan Browne for Robinson and changing the formation, He then brought on Aaron Connolly for Collins but moments later Duffy did well to prevent Elguja Lobzhanidze getting a shot away from well inside the area. Doubtless it would have gone wide, but you can never be too sure with these things.
In the end, it would be Connolly who would register the game's first actual shot of target, in injury time. It wasn't well enough struck to seriously trouble Giorgi Loria, though, and the teenage striker passed up a better chance moments later when Glenn Whelan sent him racing into wide open space. There was a lot do for the young debutant and he never seemed completely in control of the ball on what was a poor enough surface but in the end he will still feel that he should have done better that hitting the side-netting.
The visitors had yet one more chance to win it, though, when they won a corner in the last few second and the team’s defenders queued up for the chance to head Jeff Hendrick’s delivery. Duffy seemed to get their first but directed the ball straight at the goalkeeper and that was that for Ireland who could hardly argue they deserved anymore than the point. The Georgians will wonder how they let their opponents away with even that.
GEORGIA: Loria; Kakabadze, Kashia, Grigalava, Tabidze; Kiteishvili, Kankava; Okriashvili, Ananidze, Qazaishvili; Kvilitaia. Shengelia for Kvilitaia (73 mins), Lobzhanidze for Ananidze (79 mins), Aburjania for Kiteishvili (89 mins).
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Randolph (Middlesbrough); Coleman (Everton), Duffy (Brighton), Egan (Sheffield United), Doherty (Wolves); Hendrick (Burnley), Whelan (Hearts), Hourihane (Aston Villa); Robinson (Sheffield United), Collins (Luton Town), McClean (Stoke City).
Subs: Browne (Preston) for Robinson (73 mins), Connolly (Brighton), for Collins (79 mins), Williams (Blackburn Rovers) for Hourihane (90+3 mins).
Referee: M Guido (Italy).