Captain Coleman the hero as Ireland take all three points in a hard fought FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifier at a chilly Aviva Stadium this evening.
Republic of Ireland stretched their impressive winning streak against tonight’s opponents to eight from eight, as the held off a determined and hardworking Georgia side in a game which won’t live long in the memory.
Despite an injury hit build up, a confident Martin O’Neill said he wanted his side to “get on the front foot and attack” and the Ireland manager certainly got his wish. Right from the off, the direct running of Shane Long and James McClean caused all sorts of problems for the nervy Georgia backline.
This quick pressing resulted in a couple of early penalty shouts for both players, and on another day either could have been given.
The majority of the hosts play was coming through the left hand side, that was until Seamus Coleman decided to get in on the act, standing up a fine ball to the back post. James McClean rose highest to head the ball back across goal but keeper Giorgi Loria was quick off his line to punch the ball away.
It was then the visitor’s turn to put some pressure on and they were extremely unlucky not to take the lead with just 16 minutes played. Some fine footwork from the technically gifted Tomike Okriashvili on the edge of the box opened up some space down the right hand side. He sprayed the ball to Otar Kakabadze, who’s cross wasn’t closed down quick enough, and the ball fell to the feet of Valeri Kazaishvili just on the penalty spot. He twisted and turned an on his left foot somehow missed the target when a goal seemed more likely.
Despite the bright start the game fell into a lull with no real intensity being shown, despite the best efforts of the fans in the south stand to lift the boys in green.
Nine minutes before the half Vladimir Weiss looked on in disbelief as somehow with his side failed to take the lead, hitting both the crossbar and post in quick succession. A beautifully clipped cross was well met by Levan Mchedlidze who smashed the bar with his header and from the rebound, skipper Guram Kashia looped a header off the back post. Huge let off for Martin O’Neill’s troops.
Almost immediately after these glorious chances, John Walters was unlucky to see his over the head volley just sail over the bar from 10 yards out after McClean, again showing his aerial prowess, set him up with a nice knock down.
Referee Tony Chapron brought the half to a close with Ireland, despite a couple of half chances, lucky not to be 1-0 down.
Ireland started the second half on the front foot with the noticeable difference of having the players starting positions further into the Georgian half as they looked to take the game to the visitors.
And it paid off just 10 minutes in the second period when captain Seamus Coleman went on a marauding run down the right hand side. He rounded full back Giorgi Navalovski with ease, crossing low into the feet of Shane Long but Coleman very cleverly continued his run towards goal and after a goal mouth scramble the Everton full back somehow emerged with the ball and bundled it over the line.
The jubilant home support thought the lead was doubled just three minutes later when McClean had a diving header ruled out for offside. The replay showed the winger was just half a yard off and the goal was correctly ruled out.
The game was haulted following a nasty clash of heads between Solomon Kveerkveilla and Robbie Brady, who again was deployed in a more central role. The nasty collision resulted with the latter having to be stretchered off.
The contest never really got going after the delay but there was enough time for James McClean, who worked tirelessly throughout, to hammer yet another header off the bar which would have made life a lot more comfortable in the remaining few minutes.
Ireland will no doubt be grateful for getting their first win of the campaign having not played at their best and this will hopefully kickstart the momentum needed to challenge for an automatic qualifying spot
But tonight’s visitors are looking to build something impressive with a very youthful looking squad, just three members over the age of 30. It is also important to note that they gave Austria a very big scare in their opening game, narrowly losing 2-1, so they will certainly be tough opponents for the rest of the group.
Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph, Seamus Coleman, Ciaran Clarke, Shane Duffy, Stephen Ward, James McCarthy, Jeff Hendrick, Robbie Brady (Glenn Whelan 80’), James McClean, Jonathan Walters, Shane Long (John O’Shea 90+2)
Subs: Ian Lawlor, Danny Rogers, Richard Keogh, Eunan O’Kane, Wes Hoolahan, Cyrus Christie, David Meyler, Paul McShane, Jonathan Hayes, Alex Pearce
Coach: Martin O’Neill
Georgia: Giorgi Loria, Otar Kakabadze, Guram Kashia (c), Solomon Kverkvelia, Murtaz Daushvili (Nika Katcharava 90+2’), Jano Ananidze (Davit Skhirtladze 73’), Valeri Kazaishivili, Valerian Gvilia, Giorgi Navalovski (Aleksander Kobakhidze 88’), Levan Mchedilidze
Subs: Roin Kvaskhvadze, Giorgi Makaridze, Lasha Dvali, Vladimer Dvalishvili, Giorgi Kvilitaia, Lasha Parunashvili, Zurab Tsiskaridze, Jambul Jigauri, Giorgi Papunashvili
Coach: Vladimir Weiss
Referee: Tony Chapron (FRA)
Man of the Match: Seamus Coleman
Image Credit: RTE