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Sunday 4 December 2016

Win tempered by Whelan loss for stern Germany test

Ireland midfielder Glenn Whelan wins a header against Georgia’s Guram Kashia during the Euro 2016 Championship Group D qualifier at the Aviva Stadium
Ireland midfielder Glenn Whelan wins a header against Georgia’s Guram Kashia during the Euro 2016 Championship Group D qualifier at the Aviva Stadium

The Republic of Ireland are not a good-looking team.

But, unlike our more sophisticated continental cousins (that's you, Holland) they are at least looking good to stay in the race for qualification for the European Championship finals.

It took patience, and a mixture of guile from Jeff Hendrick - surely a definite starter in midfield for the rest of this campaign after two superb games in a week - and some graft from Jonathan Walters to finally break down a committed Georgia side.

Few will want to watch replays of this 1-0 win which, given Scotland's failure at home to Germany, puts Ireland on course for third place at least and in sight of second.

But the win is overshadowed by a second-half booking for Glenn Whelan which rules the midfielder out of next month's home date with the Germans.

And those TV people who persistently demean the ever-committed Whelan by nastily poking fun at his choice of car, among other 'sins' should be wary of what they wish for as a Whelan-less midfield at home to the Germans is a much weakened one.

The bright side of last night, apart from the three points of course and that German win in Glasgow, was the display of Hendrick in the middle and the sight of Walters getting on the end of Hendrick's cross shows we do not rely solely on Robbie Keane for goals.

We're in a better shape than Scotland but we will also need a lot better in the remaining tests at home to Germany and away to Poland to stay on the road to France.

The Scots can already bank three points from one of their last two games (Gibraltar) and can expect at least one more against Poland, but Ireland may need two big performances to stay in touch as last night at home to Georgia was more a big win that a great display.

In a trend that was probably started by the frustrations of Giovanni Trapattoni, Irish football has talked itself into a downward spiral of depression recently. Keep telling everyone that your players are useless and everyone starts to believe you.

For a few years now, the moan has remained the same: we don't have the players any more, we're a Championship team trying to compete in the Premier League, the big clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United no longer want to sign Irish players.

But for all the béal bocht that we put on, there's still a lot in the Irish arsenal. Of the team selected by Martin O'Neill last night, nine of the starting XI earn their crust in the English Premier League.

And Georgia?

Well that's another story. Gone are the days when the Georgians could come to Dub lin with a squad chock-full of English and Scottish Premier League regulars or a Champions League winner like Kakha Kaladze as the side picked by Kakhaber Tskhadadze last night was more agricultural than cultural. Top marks for fans who could point on on a map the places where Georgia's players play, like Mordovia Saransk, Dila Gori and Karsiyaka.

That gulf in class on paper was not evident on the pitch, certainly for the first 70 minutes or so, as Georgia looked at home in Dublin, comfortable on the ball and calm in possession, until that moment of genius from Hendrick and that calm finish from Walters did the needful.

In fact it took the home side until the 37th minute to get on a shot on target which caused any real concern to keeper Nukri Revishvili.

That came about when Seamus Coleman picked up an cleared corner and fired a shot goal-ward but the Russian-based keeper was able tor what Coleman had to offer and his goal remain intact.

Shay Given was also having a quiet night, his only moment of real concern on 25 minutes when Tornike Okriashvili chanced his arm with an overhead kick which was wide of the target but still a concern for the home side that he could get so close to Given's goal.

The half time break offered Ireland a chance to rethink, but it also would have brought news from Glasgow, where Scotland had twice fallen behind against Germany and twice came back to draw level, that game tied at 2-2 at the break.

Robbie Keane lasted only 45 minutes as Shane Long, so often a frustrated man with Ireland, was thrown on for the second half but the issue here was not who would finish the chances but who could create them, and Long should really have done better when a deflection from a Glenn Whelan run came his way 13 minutes from time.

Those analysts who persist in deriding Glenn Whelan cannot ignore that the Stoke man was, once again, Ireland's most solid player last night and his protective blanket over the back four, will be badly, badly missed at home to Germany next month.

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