Monday 11 December 2017

Captain Coleman saves Ireland blushes

World Cup Group D: Ireland 1 Georgia 0

Seamus Coleman celebrates his goal, which proved to be the only one of the game.
Seamus Coleman celebrates his goal, which proved to be the only one of the game.

Martin O'Neill took a gamble on his young guns and just about won after a difficult night at the Aviva against Georgia.

In the context of Group D, O'Neill banked his three points but the performance was poor.

His team selection was an odd one to say the least. Out went John O'Shea, who must have been seething despite all his usual urbane civility, and Richard Keogh.

O'Shea was persuaded to hold off on his retirement plans and it must have been a bitter pill to swallow that he, along with Keogh, paid the price for sloppy defending in Serbia.

But if they were dropped because of that, it was hardly reassuring that both replacements are prone to the odd rush of blood.

In a game which Ireland had to win, no matter what O'Neill claimed beforehand, that was unsettling.

It seemed as if he picked a team to physically overpower the more technically gifted Georgians.


As it happened, Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark were virtual bystanders for the early part of the game and O'Neill's trust untested. It was Georgian defenders who had to work hard.

They almost worked too hard and as far as the 30,000 plus crowd were concerned, should have been penalised twice in the opening ten minutes for fouls on Irish players in the Georgian penalty area.

Shane Long was first to go down under heavy treatment, rapidly followed by Stephen Ward and James McClean, but referee Tony Chapron was unmoved.

It was a bright start by Ireland, though the Georgians were allowed far too much possession for comfort, a pattern which continued as the half advanced.

McClean had a chance at the far post from a high, swinging Seamus Coleman cross in the 13th minute, but his header back into the six-yard box fell to Georgian feet and was booted clear.

Then came the first big warning from Georgia. Allowed thread the ball through midfield, they eventually worked the ball forward to Otar Kakabadze on the right and his cross found Valeri Kazaishvili after a deflection. He turned, dodged three defenders and fired off a shot which flew wide of the left post. He should have done better and it was a worrying moment for O'Neill.

There was worse to come. In the 37th minute after a long spell of pretty turgid stuff characterised by the Georgians pretty much owning the ball but not doing much with it, they hit the crossbar and then the post.

Tornike Okriashvili fired a cross from the left to the near post where Levan Mchedlidze flashed a header off the crossbar. The rebound flew to skipper Guram Kashi and he too hit the woodwork.

It was an extraordinary moment and an incredible stroke of luck for Ireland.

Hardly deserved. Looking more and more jittery by the second, they conceded ground and possession and finished the half firmly on the back foot.

If we hoped for better after the break, it didn't arrive. Plenty of honest effort and some half-decent pressure, but Georgia seemed comfortable with anything Ireland had to offer in the attacking area and there was always a lingering sense that they had a goal in them.

Fortunately, Coleman decided to take matters into his own hands with ten minutes gone in the second half and with one dogged, dazzling run lifted the gloom. Sprinting down the right, he cut inside Giorgi Navalovski, ran towards the near post, had a lucky bounce off Solomon Kverkvelia before walking the ball into the net.

Suddenly, leaden legs grew wings and within a few minutes of Coleman's breakthrough goal, McClean rattled the net but had drifted into an offside position just as Brady swung a wonderful ball on to his head.

Ireland moved firmly on to the front foot and a series of attacks on the Georgian penalty area followed, any which could have produced a second goal.

In the 76th minute, Robbie Brady was stretchered off wearing an oxygen mask after an incident which should have wrapped up the game for O'Neill and Ireland.


A booming cross from Ward found Long on the right post but instead of burying it, he headed back across the goal where Brady clashed with Kverkvelia getting his head on the ball.

It was brave but cost him and O'Neill took the conservative option by replacing him with Glenn Whelan when Wes Hoolahan might have been a more imaginative move.

Jeff Hendrick also picked up a booking which means he'll be suspended for the Moldovan game on Sunday.

At that point, Georgia looked vulnerable every time the ball went into their box and McClean hit the crossbar when Ireland did get the ball forward a few minutes into injury time.

Luckily, Coleman's goal was enough to nail down the points and seal the win.

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