McGeady rescues precious victory
Late wonder goal gets Irish off to a winner in Georgia
AIDEN McGeady finally delivered the command performance Ireland has been waiting for and scored two fine goals to give Martin O'Neill victory over Georgia in Tbilisi and a tonic start to the Euro 2016 campaign.
McGeady left it desperately late to score the winner as O'Neill and Roy Keane both punched the air in syncopated delight when his shot flew into the net in 90th minute.
Ireland just about deserved the win against a poor enough Georgian side and justified O'Neill's team selection which raised eyebrows before the kick-off. Stephen Quinn was the big talking point, chosen ahead of Wes Hoolahan in a five-man midfield.
He picked Hoolahan in six of his eight warm-up games and both he and Shane Long must have been devastated when they were told they would not start.
This was Quinn's competitive debut and O'Neill clearly felt that his more robust and aggressive style suited the occasion better than Hooahan's silky skills. The intent was obvious. Pack midfield, restrict Georgia and keep the ball if possible.
Given that Ireland have always struggled with passing football it was no shock to see green shirts throw away possession with irritating regularity in the early moments but fortunately, Georgia too couldn't keep hold of the ball.
But Ireland settled quickly and before long were pinging the ball nicely around the pitch. The steamy heat predicted never quite materialised. Low humidity made the high temperatures just about bearable and allowed Ireland to play at a decent tempo.
Within seconds of the kick-off, O'Neill's blueprint produced a chance. Jon Walters sprinted down the right and whipped a cross into the box which caused some consternation in the Georgian defence before it was cleared.
The move suggested possibilities for Walters and Ireland and when Séamus Coleman began to overlap, a promising line of attack opened up.
O'Neill's decision to play an extra man in midfield helped generate a lot of possession for Ireland in that opening spell which they controlled with some ease..
The challenge was to find a goal and just after Georgia had their best chance, a mistake from Marc Wilson let Gelashvili in on the right edge of the box. He lashed a shot across the face of the goal which flew wide of the left upright, touching Whelan on the way.
The corner amounted to nothing and when Forde found Walters on the right flank, half the Georgian defence was still struggling to get back into position.
Walters headed on, Robbie Keane dummied and James McCarthy gathered, had a look up and saw Aiden McGeady racing into the box on the left. The pass was sweet and McGeady checked and then buried the ball to the net in the 22nd minute.
It was a fine goal and Ireland were worth the lead and playing comfortably. If there was a concern, it centred around the defence.
Neither Marc Wilson or Stephen Ward looked solid and in the 38th minute, concern became full blown panic when Georgia equalised.
Okriashvili seemed to have no room to work with on the right edge of the box but John O'Shea and Ward backed away and the burly little striker spun and unleashed a wonderful dipping shot which left Forde groping air.
It was bad goal to concede, never mind the quality of the strike and O'Neill danced a jig of frustration in the technical area. His worst fears about Ward had just been confirmed.
Georgia were forced to switch goalkeepers four minutes into the second-half after an injury to George Loria and new man Roin Kvaskhvadze had plenty of time to settle in while his teammates pushed forward.
Boosted by their goal, Georgia looked hungry for a second and it took McGeady to lift the siege. Increasingly influential, he looked to break at all times and almost scored a second when his curled free-kick whizzed inches away from the right upright, he was well on his way to his best performance for Ireland.
His dancing feet carved another opening in the 75th minute in a central position just on the edge of the Georgian penalty area but his shot was a foot off target.
O'Neill went to his bench for reinforcements in the 76th minute and brought on Shane Long and Robbie Brady. That signalled an end to Robbie Keane's night and not a great one for him at that.
On this form, he will do well to hold onto his starting position under O'Neill. Time is catching up and his legs can't do what his mind wants them to do any more.
The substitutions had an impact and after weathering a ten minute period of Georgian pressure, Ireland began to pass well again but by then, the clock was running down rapidly
And just when it looked like stalemate would be maintained, up popped that man McGeady again with a fantastic double drag-back and turn at the edge of the box. His shot rattled the netting and nailed down three precious points.