Ireland make numerical advantage count
Robbie Keane equals Shay Given’s appearances record as Wes Hoolahan impresses in midfield role
Ireland’s Richard Keogh celebrates the opener against Georgia. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Rep of Ireland 4 Georgia 0: The last time Georgia came to town they gave Giovanni Trapattoni a bit of scare with a first minute goal that took most of the match to cancel out and another little while to add to.
Robbie Keane’s two goals that chilly February evening at Croke Park four years ago ensured he was the hero but while he matched the achievement on this, his record equalling 125th appearance for his country with goals 55 and 56, the game may be better remembered, if it is at all, for the mark made by others.
Richard Keogh, making his first senior international start, and Simon Cox got Ireland’s first two while Shane Long, captaining the side, missed a hatful but still somehow picked up the official man of the match award.
Elsewhere, though, Wes Hoolahan did all that could have been asked of him with a fluent display in central midfield, Marc Wilson looked generally commanding again at left back and James McClean reminded us that if he doesn’t score as many goals as Trapattoni would like, he can certainly set a few up when the mood takes him and, well, the opposition are losing an uphill battle.
The home side, to be fair, actually took quite a while to get off the mark and their opponents had even had a half chance early on again but an Irish victory looked all but guaranteed by the midway point in the first half when Georgian goalkeeper Giorgi Loria was dismissed for a fairly ridiculous challenge on Long just outside his area.
The error compounded the one made by full-back Ucha Lobjanidze whose back pass had allowed the Irishman to race clear. Having come racing off his line to meet the Irishman he looked to be in trouble once it became clear that he would be arriving after his opponent, but Long actually left himself with a fair bit to do by overhitting his passing ball; a fact that promptly became irrelevant as the keeper clattered into him.
In the circumstances, a yellow card might have been more desirable from everyone’s point of view but the Romanian referee showed red instead and the already defensively minded Georgians, obliged to replace midfielder Jano Ananidze, were forced into a reshuffle that deprived them of any real attacking threat.
Their new goalkeeper, Omar Migineishvili, marked his arrival with a very good save from McClean’s free-kick, but he wasn’t always so impressive which was probably just as well from an Irish point of view.
His defenders were the real problem, however, with three of the Irish goals resulting from possession won easily from Georgian errors while nobody really covered themselves in glory for the fourth either.
That shouldn’t take entirely away, however, from the fact that an Irish side built around the impressive central midfield partnership of Hoolahan and James McCarthy then set about their shorthanded opponents with a certain swagger, creating at least enough chances to win by twice as many goals.
Long really should have scored, particularly on one of the occasions he found himself through one on one with the goalkeeper, but each time his shot was almost directly at the Georgian.
Still, he impressed with much of what he did do while behind and around him there was a great deal more going than is sometimes the case, even when this Ireland team is, as it was here, playing manifestly inferior opposition.
McCarthy’s movement and solid distribution did much to ensure that the hosts did not have the sort of rocky 10 or 15 minutes that often leaves the home crowd on the edge of its collective seats.
Hoolahan’s growing influence on things as the second half progressed and the Georgians tired provided some excitement, though, and there was a clear sense of disappointment around the place when, clearly struggling to keep moving, he was replaced by Jeff Hendrick.
By then, the arrival of Richard Dunne had prompted the biggest ovation of the evening but the goals obviously weren’t too far behind.
McClean set the first up with a floated free for Keogh, whose downward header bounced high and beyond Migineishvili, and the second with a low driven cross that somehow evaded two strikers, three defenders and a goalkeeper to reach Cox just beyond the far post.
Keane then finished his two coolly although there was at least as much satisfaction on the part of Trapattoni with the way far less experienced players at this level, notably Conor Sammon and Henrick, improvised so effectively after having been gifted possession.
The greatest pity of it all was that there wasn’t a bigger crowd to witness the victory. Officially, the FAI put the crowd at 20,100 which would seem less ridiculous had it been an opening gambit in a hard nosed haggle involving another party who started at around a quarter of that figure.
What the actual figure was is hard to tell but Aviva’s brand name was clearly legible in the lower deck’s seats, so sparsely populated were they.
Republic of Ireland: Westwood (Sunderland); McShane (Hull City), R Keogh (Derby County) Delaney (Crystal Palace) Wilson (Stoke City); A Keogh (Millwall), McCarthy (Wigan Athletic), Hoolahan (Norwich City), McClean (Sunderland); Long (West Brom), Cox (Nottingham Forest). Subs: Keane (LA Galaxy) for A Keogh (62 mins), Dunne (Aston Villa) for Wilson and McGeady (Spartak Moscow) for Wilson (both 65 mins), Sammon (Derby County) for Long and Hendrick (Derby County) for McCarthy (both 72 mins) Quinn (Hull City) for Hoolahan (76 mins).
Georgia: Loria; Lobjanidze, Khubutia, Khizanishvili, Kvirkvelia; Kashia; Kobakhidze, Kankava, Daushvili, Ananidze; Gelashvili. Sub: Mogineishvili for Ananidze (23 mins), Targamadze for Lobjanidze (halt-time), Dzaria for Daushvili, Maisvradze for Gelashvili (61 mins), Podkhadze for Kvirkvelia (69 mins), Gorgiashvili for Kobakhidze (90 mins).
Referee: Sebastian Constantin Coltescu (Romania)