Ireland remain top despite disappointing draw against Georgia

Ireland remain top despite disappointing draw against Georgia
Ireland's James Collins with Guram Kashia and Jaba Kankava of Georgia. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Georgia 0 - 0 Republic of Ireland

They say that if you can’t win a game then at least do your best not to lose it.

For the guts of 85 minutes of this match, Ireland certainly didn’t look like winning against a dominant but ultimately toothless Georgia but a promising cameo by Aaron Connolly, when belatedly called upon to make his senior debut – and a Shane Duffy chance right at the death - meant it might have been a better night for the Irish, even if an unlikely victory here would most definitely have been of the smash-and-grab variety.

As had been widely anticipated, Duffy beat the fitness deadline to take his place – alongside John Egan – at the heart of the Irish defence, while there were starts at left-back for Matt Doherty in the absence of the suspended Enda Stevens and upfront for James Collins, the latter making his competitive debut one game on from donning the senior shirt for the first time – and crowning his appearance off the bench with a goal - in the friendly against Bulgaria.

With the rest of the side made up of Mick McCarthy’s first-choice players, it meant man of the moment Connolly had to be content with a place on the bench as the game kicked off in sunny but blustery conditions in a front of a paltry turn-out at the Boris Paichadze stadium in the Georgian capital.

Despite a big Irish contingent behind Darren Randolph’s goal doing their best to generate some atmosphere, it was the Georgians who had their own followers on their feet with the earliest possible warning shot as, in the very first minute, Valeri Qazishvili exchanged a one-two in the box with Giorgi Kvilitai, before undoing the slick build-up by screwing his effort wide.

A minute later, Ireland came much closer to taking the lead, Conor Hourihane’s free from the left finding John Egan, the Corkman desperately unlucky to see his angled header come back off the far post.

But it was Georgia who continued to make the running and force Ireland to back-pedal, Spartak Moscow playmaker Jano Ananidze central to their fluid, expansive play as they used the full width of the pitch to launch attack after attack.

It was coming up to twenty minutes before Ireland managed to briefly take the heat out of things by stringing a few passes together to slow the game down, and it was a full 27 minutes before we got to see a glimpse of Matt Doherty in attacking mode, only for his incisive run to end in anti-climax with the ball just slipping out of play as he attempted to play it back across the face of goal.

Three minutes before the break came a passage of play that was emblematic of the game. Having won their first corner of the match, Ireland managed to get their wires crossed and cough up possession in the final third, allowing Georgia a length of the field counter-attack which ended with Qazaishvilli pulling his drive wide.

It summed up the story going into the break: Georgia playing all the football, and Ireland, lacking cohesion and composure, living off scraps going forward. Yet disciplined defending by the visitors – with Egan and Duffy leading by example - meant that Darren Randolph was in reality as under-employed as his counterpart in the other goal.

It continued much the same way in the second period, McCarthy making his first move to change things in the 73rd minute, with Callum Robinson making way for Alan Browne shortly before Jeff Hendrick drove one into the side netting after a rare foray forward and a cross from the left by James McClean who, like most of the team, had been mainly tied up with defensive duties.

Darkness was finally falling on the stadium when the manager sought the spark the travelling Irish supporters had been waiting for, a huge cheer going up from the away end in the 78th minute as Aaron Connolly came on for his senior debut, replacing Collins as the central striker.

Ireland remain top despite disappointing draw against Georgia

In the 90th minute, the Brighton man got a shot away – essentially the first clean one on target Ireland had had in the game up to that point - but Lori smothered in the Georgian goal. And in time added on, the 19-year-old raced onto a Glenn Whelan clearance but could only drive his effort wide of the post.

And with Ireland suddenly and all too belatedly finding their attacking feet, a Jeff Hendrick corner saw Duffy rise highest in the box but direct his powerful header into the grateful arms of Loria, in what turned out to be the last act of the game.

Georgia: Loria, Kakabadze, Kashia, Navalovski, Kiteishvili (Aburjania 90), Kankava, Lobzhanidze, Ananidze, Okriashvili (lobjanidze 78), Kvilitaia (Shengelia 73)

Republic of Ireland: Randolph, Coleman, Duffy, Egan, Doherty, Hendrick, Whelan, Hourihane (Williams 93),Robinson (Browne 73), Collins (Connolly 78), McClean

Referee: Marco Guida (Italy)

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