EURO 2020 Qualification Group D
Georgia 0-0 Republic of Ireland
The Republic of Ireland had to settle for a point as they played out a scoreless draw with Georgia at the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena in Tbilisi.
Mick McCarthy’s side were second best throughout as the home side dominated possession and enjoyed the lion’s share of the attacking play throughout this Euro 2020 qualifier.
The Irish had chances to win it as debutant Aaron Connolly had two late chances to grab a fortuitous victory for McCarthy’s men, who stay top of Group D with two games remaining.
Georgia had nothing to play for heading into their final home game of the campaign and it was noticeable from the sparse, relaxed crowd, barely half-filling the 52,000 capacity arena.
Aaron Connolly’s encouraging cameo on debut was the only real bright spot from a result that leaves Ireland at the summit of Group D, at least until Denmark host Switzerland later today.
If the crowd were not too enthused, the players certainly were up for this meeting against their familiar foes.
Georgia took the game to Ireland in the opening exchanges and had a shout for a first-minute penalty as Seamus Coleman tugged Valeri Qazaishvili as he shot, coming in from the left – the ball flew harmlessly wide.
Ireland got their set-piece game going early on as James McClean was hauled down cutting in off the left flank in the third minute, and it almost paid dividends.
Conor Hourihane whipped in the free-kick and John Egan arrived to guide his header onto the far post with the keeper beaten – the home side perhaps pre-occupied with the lurking Shane Duffy.
But Georgia remained a threat going forward as Jano Ananidze, Qazaishvili, Giorgi Kvilitaia and Jaba Kankava combined in the seventh minute before Tornike Okriashvili’s final delivery was poor and Ireland cleared.
Georgia then beat the offside trap four minutes later and Giorgi Kvilitaia fed the oncoming Ananidze who had a clear look at goal but dragged his shot wide of the post.
The game opened up a bit as Ireland went on the attack in the 16th minute, which was followed swiftly by a pacey Georgian counterattack.
Another sight on goal for Ananidze but this time Glenn Whelan threw his body in the way to block the fiercely struck effort.
Matt Doherty’s first foray into the opponents’ half came after 27 minutes as the Wolves man jinked his way past three players before getting to the by-line.
The Dubliner tried to work the ball onto his right foot but it just rolled out of play as he attempted to pull it back.
But just as Georgia looked to be fading out of the game, they burst back with a fine spell of attacking play that brought the best out of the Ireland defence with Duffy called into action on more than one occasion, while Coleman and Doherty also had to be alert.
Then an early Robinson delivery appeared to catch out the defence who watched it fly across the face of the goal. The arriving McClean did not read the ball either and was a couple of yards away as it passed.
Another counter-attack three minutes from the home side and thankfully for Ireland another poor decision by Ananidze led to a snap shot when better options were arriving – the effort flew wide.
Then Ireland worked the ball up the pitch and a fine delivery into the box from Robinson, this time cutting back inside before helping the ball across, led to a corner. But again Ireland could not challenge from the set-piece as Hendrick fouled before Egan could guide his header on target.
But as half-time approached, Ireland had weathered any real pressure coming from the home side and despite the pressure and possession, Randolph did not have a save to make in the opening 45 minutes.
Ireland opened the second period with a chance inside the first minute as McClean’s ball to the back post caused the back-peddling Giorgi Loria to parry into the path of Hendrick.
The Burnley midfielder got good purchase on his header but the keeper made amends and cleared the danger.
But Georgia had not given up the chance of securing their first ever win against Ireland.
Two consecutive corners caused a bit of a commotion in the box as Randolph was forced into his first save; the flag had gone up which saved Ireland having to face another corner, at least.
There was goalmouth action at both ends as the swirling wind appeared to be playing on the mind of both goalkeepers who showed moments of indecision.
And everything remained in the balance as the game moved into the third and final act.
Ireland appeared to press on a bit as the defence pushed on but it was Georgia who looked more dangerous, this time Ananidze bursting clear with the ball.
Glenn Whelan opted to take him out of it – picking up a yellow card in the process – leading to a free in a dangerous position. Another wasted effort from the home side followed as Ananidze curled the ball over the bar.
Mick McCarthy and assistant Terry Connor were deep in discussion on the sideline working out their next move as Ireland struggled; Egan this time called on to head clear as another Georgian delivery flew into the danger zone.
Twenty minutes still to play and Ireland perhaps fearful to make an attacking change with Georgia still dominating play going forward, and it was no real surprise to see Alan Browne sent on to replace Robinson, who had faded out of the game in the second half.
But Ireland kept going and more good work from McClean allowed the tireless winger work the ball in from the left, which bypassed the keeper and reached the arriving Hendrick.
Time to take a touch and have a go at goal, Hendrick let fly but the ball zipped into the side-netting, not testing the keeper.
Connolly came on to make his maiden international appearance with 11 minutes remaining.
But again it was Georgia who liked more likely to open the scoring as the big substitute Elguja Lobjanidze got through on goal.
Desperate defending averted the danger this time, but this home side were not going away and Ireland remained under pressure.
But then Connolly had a chance to win it in the final minute of the 90 as he first set McClean away down the left before the ball fell kindly at his feet as he arrived into the box.
Head down, the Galway teenager drilled the ball low and on target but Loria would deny Connolly a dream debut and got his body behind the ball.
And then again, deep into stoppage time it was Ireland’s chance to counter as Hendrick headed clear and Whelan’s clever first-time ball sent Connolly clear again.
The striker burst through and took a touch as he bore down on goal, but then he smashed his left-footed effort just the wrong side of the near post.
One last chance for victory for Ireland as the four minutes of injury time elapsed.
Hendrick with the corner from the right, Duffy rose highest and guided his header on target, but again Loria was in the right place at the right time to gather the ball as the referee called time on this tense, turgid affair.
Georgia: Giorgi Loria; Otar Kakabadze, Guram Kashia (capt), Gia Grigalava, Jemal Tabidze; Otar Kiteishvili (Levan Shengelia 90), Jaba Kankava; Tornike Okriashvili (Elguja Lobjanidze 79), Jano Ananidze, Valeri Qazaishvili; Giorgi Kvilitaia (Levan Shengelia 73)
Referee: Marco Guida (ITA)
Venue: Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena