The only consolation is that the outcome could have been much worse for the visitors.
Witnessing the one-sided nature of much of the contest, and in particular the vibrant fluency of the home side in stark contrast to the visitors’ embarrassing inability to string even a couple of passes together, our old friend the alien from outer space would have been astonished to learn that the men in green on the pitch of the Dinamo Arena were, at the start of play, joint top of the group and the men in white second from bottom.
And while it’s certainly true that Ireland had a trio of big chances to snatch an improbable victory, such an outcome would have been desperately cruel on Georgia whose command of much of this game really deserved more than just a share of the spoils.
What made the experience all the more galling for the Irish fans in the ground is that, on a hot and sticky night in the Georgian capital, things had looked so much brighter early on.
The game was barely four minutes old when, in a familiar, no-frills Irish ploy, Darren Randolph looked for the head of Jon Walters on the right flank and, when the 50-cap man drew a foul, Cyrus Christie stepped up to post a free deep into the Georgian box. The rest was all about understudy goalkeeper Giorgi Makaridze comprehensively losing his way and the towering Shane Duffy rising to take full advantage by directing a downward header for his first goal for his country.
Unfortunately, there then followed another all too familiar Irish ploy: The baffling tactic of surrendering from a position of strength. With the visitors showing absolutely no inclination to try and press home their early advantage, the Georgians were practically invited to colonise possession and camp themselves in the opposition half. And, to make matters worse, on the few occasions when Irish players did find themselves in possession of the ball, they promptly gave it away.
With the Georgians zipping it about with increasing confidence, Ireland’s rope-a-dope approach was simply asking for trouble, and they got it in the 34rd minute when the home side’s impressive playmaker, Jano Ananidze, danced through the heart of the visitors’ defence before releasing Valeri Kazaishvili to slot the ball under Randolph.
Duffy almost had a second international goal to his credit before the end of the half only for Makaridze to redeem himself with a fine save, but, that moment apart, it was all Georgia in the first 45, with Randolph and the Irish players arrayed in front of him — which, the isolated Shane Long apart, was basically everyone in a green shirt — under relentless pressure until the referee’s whistle finally allowed them to gain the sanctuary of the dressing room.
The hour mark arrived with Ireland no longer under siege yet without any significant change in the balance of the game.
Martin O’Neill sought to find a badly needed creative spark by sending Aiden McGeady into the fray in place of Harry Arter who, along with Robbie Brady, had been largely anonymous in that part of the park, which had been crying out for Wes Hoolahan’s guile, composure, and basic ability to retain possession of the football.
With the game now opening up, Ireland were belatedly asking a few questions of
the Georgian rearguard but, even though a winner for the visitors would have felt like grand larceny, the record will show that, while Georgia had a lock on the possession stats, the game’s most enticing goal opportunities were wasted by, in turn, Shane Long, James McClean, and, pretty much summing up a night to forget for Irish football with a head-in-hands miss right at the death, Aiden McGeady.
Makaridze; Kakabadze, Kvirklevia, Kashia (cap), Navalovski; Gvilia, Kvekveskiri; Jighauri (Chantuira, 75), Ananidze, Kaziashvili (Khocholava, 90); Kvitalia (Merebashvili, 85).
Randolph; Christie, Duffy, Clark, Ward; Whelan (Murphy, 78), Arter (McGeady, 61); Walters, Brady, McClean, Long.
Ivan Kruzliak (Slovakia)