Republic of Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill, admitted that his side will need to find a win in their next two matches, against Germany and Poland respectively, to secure at least a playoff spot for next summer’s European Championship finals in France despite earning three points over Georgia in Dublin on Monday night.
The pace in the first half suggested this game was a friendly rather than an important European Championship qualifier. Both sides had chances but didn’t seem to have that killer instinct in front of goal. Ireland had the first real effort on goal early in the game. Wes Hoolahan worked his way into the box and played a lovely one-two with Jon Walters in the box before delivering a cross that was met by the foot of a diving Robbie Keane. The captain couldn’t connect with the ball correctly and his effort sailed over the crossbar, not troubling Georgia’s keeper, Nukri Revishvili.
Georgia fired back though and striker Levan Mchedlidze had a couple of efforts on goal but they were cleared with ease by the Irish defence. The visitors did have a few more efforts at Irish defence though. Their best effort came midway through the first half. Giorgi Navalovsky whipped in a cross that was met by Tornike Okriashvili, who attempted an audacious bicycle kick. His effort though didn’t connect and the ball dribbled wide.
It was deep into the first half that Ireland had their best effort of the game. After some back and forth in the Georgian box. The ball landed to Seamus Coleman. The Everton defender hit a half volley. His strike had some power behind it and it troubled Revishvili who could only punch the ball away.
The home side made the only change at half time. O’Neill decided to withdraw Keane and replace him with Shane Long up front. Jon Walters seemed to shift into a right side of midfield. The game did pick up in pace and the Irish were on top of the game and put pressure on the visitors from the whistle.
The Irish had numerous efforts on goal but they couldn’t get the power behind the shots. Coleman again had another effort to get on the score sheet. After working well to force his way into the Georgian area, the right back took a shot on goal. His effort was too soft though and was easily collected by Georgia’s keeper.
James McCarthy also failed to capitalise with his efforts on goal. The midfielder had a couple of chances on the edge of the box but he fluffed both efforts and they flew past the goal. McCarthy did not disguise his disgust at both efforts and he knows that he should have done better.
Then came the moment that defined the game. Jeff Hendrick starting from the left side of the pitch moved in and around the Georgian defence, something that resembled to Lionel Messi. He then reached the goal line and cut a short pass to Jon Walters. His effort seemed to deflect off a Georgian defender and rolled into the back of the net. You could see what the goal meant to the Stoke striker. He dashed towards the Irish fans to celebrate what is an important goal in Group D.
Georgia were forced to play the last 10 minutes with 10 men as they lost striker Mchedlidze to what seemed like a hamstring injury. The visitors still pressed for an equaliser late on but could not avail. Loud cheers from the stands greeted the final whistle. This result was another twist in the tale that has been the Euro 2016 qualifiers.
Speaking after the game, O’Neill expressed his delight at coming away with three points from what was a tricky game. “We found a way to win in the second half. I thought we were very tentative in the first half. I’m not sure why we should be, having won on Friday. I thought we lacked energy in the first half and consequently created very little and that was a bit of a worry. The players came out strongly in the second half and we deserved to get the goal and we deserved to win the game,” said the Irish manager.
With world champions, Germany set to visit Dublin next month and a visit to Poland not long after, there is set to be more drama in what has turned out to be an interesting qualifying campaign. As O’Neill mentioned, a win in the final two games would all but secure at least a play off position for the Boys in Green, something one would not have expected after the fixture against Scotland in Dublin earlier this summer. However, that will not be an easy task against the two top teams in this group.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Given, Coleman, O’Shea, Clark,Brady, Whelan, McCarthy, Hoolahan (McClean 74′), Hendrick, Keane (C) (Long 45′), Walters
Substitutes: Forde, Randolph,Wilson, McGeady, Meyler, Doyle, Christie, Ward, Quinn, Keogh
Goal: Walters (69′)
Yellow Cards: Whelan (74′), McClean (76′)
GEORGIA: Revishvili, Lobzhanidze, Kverkvelia, Kashia (Tsintsadze 75′), Amisulashvili, Khizanishvili (Kenia 80′), Kankava (C), Kazaishvili (Papunashvili 64′), Okriashvili, Navalovsky, Mchedlidze
Substitutes: Loria, Makaridze, Kakabadze, Popkhadze, Merebashvili, Tskhadadze, Vatsadze, Daushvili
Referee: István Vad (Hungary)