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Friday 22 September 2017

O'Neill needs luck on his side once again

Georgian draw worst in years but this has been coming for a while

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill gestures during the World Cup Group D qualifying draw with Georgia in Tbilisi on Saturday.
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill gestures during the World Cup Group D qualifying draw with Georgia in Tbilisi on Saturday.

Out of luck, out-played but, somehow, not out of contention for the World Cup finals.

It's bizarre to think that, after yet another poor performance in the World Cup campaign, this Ireland side know that a win at home to Serbia tomorrow would put them on top of the table and leave them well-placed to qualify for a first World Cup finals in 16 years.

They will need a massive dose of good fortune to make that happen, but Martin O'Neill has been living on the back of good luck for a long time now and it was only a matter of time before that ran out.

Saturday's display in Georgia was not a one-off, a sub-par display that can be discarded back in Tbilisi like a forgotten suitcase as the focus moves on to the next game.

Criticism

At home to Georgia, at home to Wales, at home to Austria and now away to the Georgians, Ireland's play has been beset by a poverty of thought and the absence of a game-plan to go and win the game.

Take out that (admittedly thrilling) win in Vienna and it's been a case of months of suffering for Irish football. Ignore any suggestion that criticism of this team and their efforts is just the nasty grumbling from the grey old men of the RTE panel.

Those who suffer financially on the back of watching the Irish side - Ireland had a brilliant support in Tbilisi for a trip that would have set most fans back the guts of €1,000 - can see themselves, hence the steady grumbling and moaning from that Ireland support as the bleary-eyed made their way home yesterday via Germany, Turkey and Poland.

They are loyal fans, and in a week where some German supporters poured shame on their nation, remain a credit. Loyal, but they are not fools.

Pallid

They know what they saw, and what they saw in the Dinamo Stadium on Saturday was beyond not good enough. It was dire, Ireland bereft of ideas.

Watch the match back on TV, pause at any stage when their No. 7 Jano Ananidze gets on the ball and tries to make things happen, a top-class player with a football brain and the willingness to get on the ball and pass it.

He looked world class compared to the off-colour Harry Arter, his pallid display again prompting the question: is the Premier League (eight players in that Ireland line-up) really the best league in the world?

If so, how come a squad player in the Russian league (Ananidze struggles to get into the Spartak side) outwit someone like Arter, just by using his brain. Ireland? They can be summed up by one moment on the hour mark (watch the game again and look for it). Ciaran Clark has possession, he looks up briefly, punts the ball up 60 yards to no one and gifts the opposition a throw in.

As happens after time we suffer, we're told that the current Ireland manager no longer has the world-class talent to call upon. So, the man in charge is bravely making the best of the shoddy cards he's dealt with.

Looking at the opposition in Tbilisi on Saturday night, that's nonsense. Georgia don't have top-drawer talent to call on either. In fact this was an under-strength side as they were without four of their key players.

One of their key men the other night, the classy right back Otar Kakabadze, plays in the Spanish second division, others play for clubs in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Macedonia and the MLS.

The key for Georgia on Saturday was how they used the ball and how they used their playmaker, the brilliant Spartak Moscow man Jano Ananidze.

If Ireland had such a player (and we have something close to it in Wes Hoolahan), he wouldn't have made an impact on the game. he'd have been on the bench (where Hoolahan started and finished).

Dropping points in Georgia should have been expected, it's been coming as the side's inability to keep possession and create chances has left the Republic side just waiting to be found out. That's the thing about luck. It runs out.

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