An excellent all-round performance and a fine free-kick from Conor Hourihane took Ireland to the top of Group D. They dominated Georgia from the first minute to the last, and though they survived a couple of near things, were very good value for their win.

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Ireland were enterprising and aggressive from the off, and might have gone ahead early in the piece. But then, on 33 minutes, Guram Kashia booted David McGoldrick - at which point a bunch tennis balls invaded the pitch, launched in protest at the various dealings of the Irish FA. Hourihane took the opportunity to curl a fine left-footed effort around the near side of the wall and past Giorgi Loria.

Ireland supporters protest against Executive Vice President John Delaney as Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph looks on during the 2020 UEFA European Championships group D qualifying match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium on March

Image credit: Getty Images

Just before half-time, Darren Randolph was forced into a decent save - Valerian Gvilia ought really to have scored - but it was a rare opportunity for the visitors, who did not come close again until five minutes from time, when Jaba Kankava thundered a brilliant long-range drive against the post.

But Georgia could not parlay the opportunity into any sustained pressure, and Ireland saw out the remaining time in relative comfort. For the first time in a long time, they look like a team.

Dublin , Ireland - 26 March 2019; Conor Hourihane of Republic of Ireland celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the UEFA EURO2020 Group D qualifying match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at the Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, in Dubl

Image credit: Getty Images

TALKING POINT The tennis-ball controversy

Not everyone agreed with supporters disrupting the game, and various ex-pros said it might affect the players, but really. Players are paid to focus, so that's what they should do, while fans pay to watch the game, so are entitled to a voice.

MAN OF THE MATCH David McGoldrick (Ireland)

A one-man forward-line, running channels, coming deep, linking play and breaking into the box.

PLAYER RATINGS

  • Ireland: Randolph 7, Coleman 6, Duffy 6, Keogh 6, Stevens 6, Hendricks 6, Whelan 7, Hourihane 7, Brady 6, McGoldrick 7, McClean 6..subs: O'Brien 6, Doherty 6.
  • Georgia: Loria 6, Kakabadze 6, Khocholava 5, Kverkvelia 6, Kashia 6, Kiteishvili 5, Kverkveskiri 5, Kankava 6, Gvilia 6, Arveladze 5, Kvilitaia 5..subs: Kharabadze 6, Qazaishvili 6, Okriashvili 6.

KEY STATS

  • Republic of Ireland have won now each of their six home meetings with Georgia by an aggregate score of 11-1.
  • Republic of Ireland are now unbeaten in each of their 10 matches with Georgia in all competitions (W9 D1), their joint-longest unbeaten run against a single opponent along with Turkey (10 between 1974 and 2003).
  • Following their defeats to both Switzerland and Republic of Ireland, Georgia have suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time since October 2017 (v Wales and Serbia).
  • Republic of Ireland have won their opening two matches of a major qualifying campaign for the first time since the EURO 2016 qualifiers, when they also beat Georgia and Gibraltar in their first two matches.
  • Republic of Ireland have recorded four consecutive clean sheets in all competitions for the first time since a run of eight between May and October 2011.
  • As well as netting his first goal for his country, Conor Hourihane is the first Republic of Ireland player to score a direct free-kick goal for the Boys in Green since Robbie Brady did so against Oman back in August 2016.
  • Mick McCarthy has now won his first two competitive matches in charge of Republic of Ireland in both stints as manager, also claiming victory over Liechtenstein and Macedonia back in 1996.

KEY MOMENTS

  • 11’ - Ye've gottae score! Hendrick wins the ball in midfield with a crunching tackle on Kankava, and Hourihane bursts onto the loose ball! He arrives inside the box and has Brady to his right - a decent pass and the keeper is out of the equation - but Hourihane takes it on himself, shooting against the Loria who, to give him his due, comes a long way out to narrow the angle.
  • 26’ - Georgia win a corner down the right and Kiteishvili picks out Kvilitaia. He's got a lot to do to get head and neck behind ball, but he manages it to direct an effort towards the far post; Randolph has it covered, but Stevens, stationed on the line, makes sure and allows it to hit him.
  • 36’ - GOAL! Ireland 1-0 Georgia (Hourihane) This is very nicely done! Hourihane curls, left-footed, around the outside of the wall about shoulder-height, and inside the near post! Perhaps the wall could've done more and perhaps the keeper could've moved quicker, but still, a decent strike for your first international goal.
  • 40+3’ - But what's this?! Kankava lifts a ball from centrefield towards the back post, where Arveladze is in behind Coleman! He nods back very well indeed, and Gvilia batters a shot from close range that Randolph ought never to have smelled but which he beats away well, Stevens completing the clearance. That was exceedingly close, and a major warning for Ireland.
  • 72’ - A long ball from McClean, into the channel for McGoldrick, bounces up and Kverkvelia misses his header! McGoldrick latches onto it, but his touch past the keeper is too strong, so all he can do is slide high from on the goalline when he catches up with it.
  • 85’ - AND LOOK AT THAT! Kankava, in space outside the box, absolutely massacres a curler that batters the face of the post, two-thirds of the way up! What an effort! Randolph was nowhere near that (though of course O'Shea thought "Darren" had it covered.


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