The Republic of Ireland’s campaign to qualify for the 2020 European Championship stalled slightly in Tbilisi on Saturday afternoon, after a goalless draw with Georgia that was markedly low on quality.
Mick McCarthy’s team extend their lead to three points at the top of Group D but will rue the missed opportunity to take a giant step toward qualification that a win here would have provided. They will now round out their campaign with a trip to Switzerland on Tuesday and their final match at home to Denmark in November. Those two sides are hot on the heels of the Republic of Ireland in Group D and play in Copenhagen tonight.
There were only three shots on target during the match, and McCarthy’s team had the better chances. John Egan’s header hit the post in the fourth minute and late substitute Aaron Connolly had two good chances as full-time approached.
Georgia were neat and tidy in possession but rarely threatened Darren Randolph’s goal. Given the limitations of the opposition, McCarthy might come to regret not having gambled on giving Connolly his debut much earlier in the half.
Should Aaron Connolly go straight into the starting team in Geneva? The Republic of Ireland have only scored six goals in six games in Group D, half of which were put past Gibraltar in two games. The late introduction of Connolly in Tbilisi instantly created two chances at the end of this lacklustre stalemate and might have won the match. After his heroics for Brighton against Tottenham last weekend there was an inevitable overexcitement about putting Connolly straight into the side, but McCarthy must surely now be tempted after seeing that impact in such a short amount of time.
MAN OF THE MATCH
James McClean (Republic of Ireland) - In a game desperately low on quality the Stoke City winger managed to combine industry with a few classy contributions and was at the heart of all the Republic of Ireland’s best work. He gave the Georgian right-back Otar Kakabadze a testing afternoon, but didn’t get the reward his individual performance merited.
Georgia (4-5-1): Loria 5; Kakabadze 5, Kashia 6, Tabidze 6, Grigalava 5; Kankava 6, Kiteishvili 6, Okriashvili 6, Ananidze 7, Qazaishvili 6; Kvilitaia 5
SUBS: Lobjanidze 6, Aburjania 6, Shengelia 6
Republic of Ireland (4-3-3): Randolph 6; Coleman 6, Duffy 6, Egan 6, Doherty 6; Whelan 5, Hourihane 6, Hendrick 5; Robinson 6, McClean 7, Collins 5
SUBS: Browne 6, Connolly 6
Jeff Hendrick of Republic of Ireland in action against Jaba Kankava of Georgia during the UEFA EURO2020 Qualifier match between Georgia and Republic of Ireland at the Boris Paichadze Erovnuli Stadium in Tbilisi
Image credit: Getty Images
4’ OFF THE POST! The Republic win a free-kick out on the left. Hourihane whips it into the area and Egan rises to get a glancing header on the ball. It flashes at goal, hits the inside of the post and bounces out. So close!
11’ Another chance for Georgia. A hopeful long clearance finds Kvilitaia onside, and running through to the area. He's held up, but lays it off to Ananidze, who drags his shot wide from the edge of the area.
35’ A sniff of a chance for Ireland, as Robinson whips a cross in from the right touchline. It bounces through the Georgian six-yard box and just too far ahead of McClean, who was unmarked.
90’ HALF A CHANCE FOR CONNOLLY! McClean beats his man again down the left and fires a low cross into the box. It breaks to Connolly in the left of the area, who drills in a low shot that's well held by Loria.
90+2’ ANOTHER CHANCE! Whelan launches a long clearance that suddenly releases Connolly. He outruns the Georgian defence, with the ball bobbling and drifting slightly away from goal. Connolly launches a half volley at goal but it ripples the side-netting.
90+5’ CHANCE! Hendrick's looping corner finds the head of Duffy, who plants his header straight at Loria who holds it on the goal line.
- Georgia failed to register a shot on target in the whole game.
- The Republic of Ireland remain unbeaten in eleven games against Georgia, having won nine and drawn two.