World Cup Qualifier
Georgia 1-1 Republic of Ireland
Shane Duffy’s first senior international goal was enough only to claim a point as the Republic of Ireland rode their luck in Georgia.
Duffy headed the visitors into a fourth-minute lead, but they were unable to capitalise as Georgia hit back in determined fashion. They levelled 11 minutes before the break through Valeri Kazaishvili and enjoyed much the better of the game for long periods.
Jonathan Walters was handed his 50th senior cap as part of an Ireland side that featured two changes to the one that drew with Austria in June, Ciaran Clark and Shane Long replacing Kevin Long and Jeff Hendrick.
Georgia launched the first attack with less than two minutes gone when Jano Ananidze crossed from the right and Jambul Jigauri only just failed to climb high enough at the far post. But Ireland took the lead shortly afterwards when Cyrus Christie floated a free-kick into the box and with the keeper, Giorgi Makaridze, under pressure from Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark, the Brighton defender headed into an empty net.
Makaridze was relieved to see a swerving Robbie Brady free-kick dip wide of his far post when he was caught flat-footed again seven minutes later, and his opposite number, Darren Randolph, who was happy to see the ball miss the target at the other end when striker Giorgi Kvilitaia got his head to Ananidze’s 15th-minute corner, but could not direct it at goal. James McClean went close to a second for the visitors when he glanced Walters’ cross just past the post. Darren Randolph had to palm away Giorgi Kakabadze’s driven cross as Georgia responded.
The home side were causing Ireland problems down the right and O’Neill’s men were repeatedly careless in possession as they attempted to break, although McClean’s industry earned Long a half-chance when the striker sent a dipping volley over the crossbar.
However, Georgia were back in the game when the excellent Ananidze collected Valerian Gvilia’s pass and unpicked the Irish rearguard to slide in Valeri Kazaishvili, who made no mistake as Randolph advanced in vain.
The Ireland keeper had to get down to save Nika Kvekveskiri’s skidding long-range effort with the Georgians dominating possession and Ireland firmly on the back foot.
Duffy very nearly finished the half as he had started it when he met Brady’s inswinging corner with a firm header at the far post, but this time Makaridze was in the right place to parry.
The pattern of the first half was largely repeated after the break as the home side moved the ball at will, Ananidze side-footing a 49th-minute effort just wide. Ireland were pinned back deep inside their own half with Long painfully isolated and McClean trying desperately to shore up his side’s left flank ahead of Ward rather than using his pace in the opposite direction.
The West Brom winger did force a 59th-minute corner after Long had held up Harry Arter’s long ball, but the Georgian defence was this time equal to the task.
Arter took aim from distance on the hour mark but his dipping volley was claimed comfortably by Makaridze.
Ireland might have retaken the lead had Long managed to make the most of a rare opportunity when he rose unmarked to get his head to Christie’s 69th-minute cross, but could only land his effort on the roof of the net.
The substitute Aiden McGeady sensed another chance of glory when he broke into space down the right with 18 minutes remaining, but his ambitious long-range strike was blocked at source by the Georgia captain, Guram Kashia.
However, Makaridze was called upon seconds later when Brady thumped in a swerving effort which the keeper took two attempts to claim.
Martin O’Neill introduced a third striker in Daryl Murphy when he replaced the midfielder Glenn Whelan with 79 minutes gone, and in a tense conclusion McClean went close when his shot cannoned off the back of a defender and looped up in the air before it was clasped to the chest of the grateful Makaridze.
McGeady then passed up a wonderful opportunity to win it in stoppage time, lifting a shot harmlessly over the bar as glory beckoned.
Ireland head for home knowing Tuesday’s clash with Serbia at the Aviva Stadium has assumed even greater proportions as a result of their result in Tbilisi, and that there is still a long way to go in the group in which they sit second, behind their next opponents.
Ireland: Darren Randolph; Cyrus Christie, Ciaran Clark, Shane Duffy, Stephen Ward; Glenn Whelan (capt) (Daryl Murphy 79), Harry Arter (Aiden McGeady 61), James McClean, Robbie Brady, Jonathan Walters; Shane Long.
Georgia: 1 Giorgi Makaridze; 21 Otar Kakabadze, 4 Guram Kashia (capt), 5 Solomon Kverkvelia, 7 Jano Ananidze, 8 Valeri Kazaishvili (Davit Khocholava 90), 10 Nika Kvekveskiri, 13 Giorgi Kvilitaia (17 Giorgi Merebashvili 86), 15 Valerian Gvilia, 20 Jambul Jigauri (11 Giorgi Chanturia 75), 22 Giorgi Navalovski.
Referee: Ivan Kruzliak (Slovakia)