Tame display in Tbilisi leaves Ireland needing to take down a big beast
Two draws not enough for Mick McCarthy’s side after dull draw against Georgia
Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph in action during the Euro 2020 Group D qualifier against Georgia at the Boris Paichadze Arena in Tbilisi. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Georgia 0 Republic of Ireland 0
When it was all over, Mick McCarthy described the suggestion that Ireland should be especially disappointed not to have won this game as “a ridiculous notion”. So poor was the Irish performance, however, that his Swiss and Danish counterparts might well regard the prospect of their sides losing to his in very much the same terms as they watch the match back.
One of those sides will now have to be beaten if Ireland is to secure a top-two finish, with the result in Copenhagen, combined with this draw, putting an end to the possibility that Ireland might progress without winning one of their last two matches. The prospect of Ireland failing to qualify having not lost a single group game is, on the other hand, a very real threat.
As he had before the game, McCarthy cited Denmark’s failure to win in Tbilisi a month ago as evidence that there is no great shame in a decent team dropping a couple of points in the city. The big difference, though, is in the manner in which the two teams drew.
In September, Age Hareide’s side looked comfortably the better team but somehow could not put the chances they created away. Then, in the way of these things, as they pushed for the win they wanted in the closing stages, their opponents sensed there might be the opportunity for a spot of smash and grab.
It was much the same on this occasion only it was Ireland, ranked more than 60 places higher than their hosts, who were a distant second best. About the most upbeat thing you could say about it all is that they too came close to stealing it at the end.
Aaron Connolly (twice) and Shane Duffy were the ones who had who had the chances in those closing stages but neither managed to make Giorgi Loria make a genuinely good save. Jeff Hendrick had a shot he might have done better with too. To say an Irish winner would have been harsh on the hosts would be quite an understatement but that never stopped us before. Inflicting injustices on Georgia at their place, though, no longer seems to be something Ireland have in their locker.
On the face of it, the improvement shown on the attacking side of things late on coincided with the introduction of Connolly, who made a case to be included from the start in Geneva on Tuesday night, but McCarthy went out of way to say how much he appreciated the effort James Collins had put in on all fronts and so nothing is certain yet.
The manager will surely have to make changes but replacing everyone who came up short here is not an option and so, inevitably, he sought to mark the whole thing down as having been one of those days.
He noted, correctly and more than once, that for all Georgia’s dominance, Darren Randolph had not had a solitary save to make, but that had at least as much to do with the quality of the home side’s finishing, which was abysmal, as it did with Ireland’s defending, decent as some of that was in the circumstances.
Duffy was good and John Egan stood up well enough, for the most part, to what was a fairly stern examination. Still there were moments that everyone will want to forget.
On one side, Egan and Séamus Coleman between them allowed Elguja Lobjanidze to get into a position from which most players would at the very least to get a shot away, but he hesitated and Duffy arrived to make a very fine block. On the other, Matt Doherty and James McClean had just the sort of misunderstanding that the Wolves player had suggested was a danger when there is the lack of an established working relationship there, as both went with an overlapping opponent and so left Otar Kakabadze with a clear path into the area.
These were just a couple of glimpses of Ireland without the ball and there were problems almost everywhere, with Callum Robinson’s poor defensive showing one of many concerns ahead of Tuesday’s game.
As McCarthy acknowledged readily enough, however, the even greater issue was the collective inability to keep the ball when they actually had it. The tone seemed to be set in the opening seconds as Jaba Kankava harried Hendrick, Ireland coughed up possession for the first of many times and Valeri Qazaishvili had the home side’s first shot off target. Almost exactly quarter of nearly 400 Irish passes that followed went astray and while McClean, Conor Hourihane and Hendrick were some of the guiltiest parties, just about everybody played their part.
There was some talk afterwards about the surface but Georgia produced some extended periods of passing football which Ireland often looked powerless to disrupt.
The effort from the sideline to get Ireland’s players to up their game were pretty much relentless, with positioning a persistent issue. But it had little effect, at least until those closing stages. Ultimately, the players were all, the manager admitted afterwards, disappointed with themselves in the dressingroom, where he had to try to pick them up.
“I asked them would you have taken four points before we started, beat them at home and draw away? They weren’t all saying yeah. And I said, ‘well I would’. Because that’s how you qualify, that’s how you win things. It might not end up like that, I know that, but winning at home and drawing away is not a bad recipe.”
Sure enough, winning one and drawing one will be enough to see Ireland through if they can cook that particular combination up against one of the group’s other qualification contenders. Managing it against Georgia did not seem like much of a formula for success on Saturday, though, and if Ireland do fail to win at least one of their remaining games then it will not seem any better in a month’s time.
Perhaps the most painful combination of results for McCarthy now would be a couple of draws, something that would have been enough to ensure qualification had a victory been secured here. That would mark this result out as a very costly disappointment indeed.
GEORGIA: Loria; Kakabadze, Kashia, Grigalava, Tabidze; Kiteishvili, Kankava; Okriashvili, Ananidze, Qazaishvili; Kvilitaia.
Subs: 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).