Republic of Ireland 0 Georgia 1
Giovanni Trapattoni’s hopes of taking the Republic of Ireland to the World Cup finals suffered a setback when Georgia roared into the lead at Croke Park.
Alexander Iashvili fired the visitors ahead with less than a minute gone as Ireland got off to the worst possible start.
Their fortunes did not improve much as the half wore on with midfielder Keith Andrews having a 25th-minute strike ruled out for offside against Kevin Doyle even though it was Georgia defender Kakha Kaladze who got the decisive touch.
The Georgians arrived intent on revenge after their 'home' game had been controversially switched to the neutral venue of FC Mainz's Bruchweg Stadium, and they made their point with the contest less than a minute old.
Striker David Siradze got up well to flick on full-back Ucha Lobjanidze’s long ball and, when Kelly was unable to cut it out, Alexander Iashvili stabbed a close-range shot past the helpless Shay Given to give the visitors the perfect start.
Ireland were in disarray and Kelly was almost punished again with four minutes gone when he headed an attempted clearance straight at Iashvili, who forced a solid save from Given at his near post after latching on to the rebound.
Trapattoni’s men were laboured in their efforts to force their way back into the game, and the closest they came to an early response was Aiden McGeady’s eighth-minute cross, which dropped just over keeper Giorgi Monaia’s crossbar.
Iashvili was proving a real handful and it took a good block from Andrews to prevent him from picking out one of three red shirts in the middle after he had created space for himself on the left three minutes later.
The Republic eventually regained their composure and went close with 22 minutes gone when Glenn Whelan’s shot was half-charged down and ran towards Keane, although the skipper could not control the ball as it arrived at pace.
However, they thought they were back on level terms with 25 minutes gone after an enterprising piece of play from Damien Duff.
The Newcastle midfielder cut inside from the right and squared for Keith Andrews, whose side-footed effort found the back of the net with the help of a deflection off Kaladze.
However, Finnish referee Jouni Hyytia controversially ruled that Kevin Doyle had been in an offside position even though he did not get a touch.
Georgia midfielder Zurab Menteshashvili went into the book for a crude challenge on Andrews four minutes later, and Ireland almost made him pay from the resulting free-kick.
Whelan picked out Kevin Kilbane in space on the left side of the penalty area, and after he had helped the ball on to the near post, Keane sent in a flicked header which forced a smart save from Lomaia.
Richard Dunne did just enough to put Siradze off inside the box at the other end 11 minutes before the break after yet more good work on the left by Iashvili, but the home side were finally starting to dominate.
Doyle appealed in vain for a penalty seconds later after going down under Kaladze’s challenge, although Mr Hyytia rightly waved away his claims.
But it took a fine stop from Lomaia to deny McGeady with four minutes of the half remaining when, having been fed by Whelan inside his own half, he set off on a mazy run which ended with a powerfully-struck shot from 20 yards which the keeper did well to turn away.