Ireland let huge opportunity slip in dire draw with Georgia

Aaron Connolly’s debut showed promise, but there was little else for Ireland to shout about in Tbilisi.

James McClean shows his frustration.
James McClean shows his frustration.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Georgia 0

Republic of Ireland 0

ANOTHER RELIABLY GRIM entry to the Ireland/Georgia archives, this one a goalless draw which means Ireland have let a golden opportunity to slip through their fingers.

A win along with a Danish draw or defeat to Switzerland tonight would have meant Ireland might need only draw against the Danes on the final day to squeeze into Euro 2020, but tonight’s draw means they will probably have to stir themselves to win either of the two remaining games – a painfully unlikely prospect after tonight’s fitful, ragged effort.

Aaron Connolly at least offered some positives for the group’s crescendo: he had Ireland’s two best chances in a 15-minute cameo as a replacement for James Collins. Georgia were technically tidy, but reliably hopeless in front of goal, never once forcing Darren Randolph into a save of note.

Ireland’s performance, though, was redolent of their last appearance in Tbilisi – largely appalling, worsened by the absence of an early goal. While Shane Duffy infamously “scored too early” at this ground in 2017, John Egan’s glanced header from Conor Hourihane’s third-minute free-kick bounced back off the post.

Ireland looked hassled and harried from the off, hacking in panic at clearances amid an inability to pass the ball through midfield. Georgia, meanwhile, began aggressively, pushing Valeri Qazaishvili and Tornike Okriashvilli high and wide, easily exploiting space inside Ireland’s full-backs.

Qazaishvilli found himself slicing through space inside Coleman in the first minute, but screwed his shot so badly wide it trickled out for a throw-in. Their comfort on the ball in midfield damned Ireland by comparison, as the Irish play broke down to a litany of heavy touches, misplaced passes and panic-stricken hacks upfield.

aaron-connolly-dejected-at-the-final-whistle Aaron Connolly dejected at full-time. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Here’s some of the horror reel: Glenn Whelan sending a simple five-yard pass to Coleman over the touchline; James’ Collins and McClean tackling each other for the same pass; McClean and Doherty colliding while heading the same ball; Whelan threading a through ball for his own goalkeeper, which Randolph then sliced to a Georgian midfielder.

Egan’s header aside, Ireland could only force two first-half corners: one ended in a foul and the other created a chance for Georgia on the break, thwarted by an abysmal Qazaishvili shot from long-range. If Georgia had anything a cutting edge – anything mildly serrated, even – they would have had the half-time lead they deserved.

The limitations of Ireland’s lonely attackers were horribly accentuated in the opening half – McClean’s indecision in possession, Collins’ unpredictable touch, Robinson’s disappointing timidity – but the real issue lay in midfield, as Hendrick and Hourihane failed to get on the ball regularly to give the attacking trio anything but hoiked clearances and bad passes to work with.

David McGoldrick was a big miss – but it’s unlikely he could have done much more than the paltry service afforded to Collins here.

Ireland began the second-half with renewed vigor, but it soon subsided as their baffling hesitancy in possession returned. Georgia again looked the most likely to score, with right-back Otar Kakabadze weaving his way into the penalty area before plucking the ‘bad’ rather than the ‘Kaka’ from his name in skewing his finish wide.

That he found space that easily was symbolic of Matt Doherty’s struggles at left-back. James McClean led an angry inquest as to how easily Kakabadze found that space, and McCarthy sent Derrick Williams to warm up shortly after.

Enda Stevens won’t be worried about his place for the Swiss game.

Ireland’s attacking game remained impoverished, made largely of aimless passing among themselves at the back before launching a fruitless ball forward in Collins’ general postcode. 

It never worked.

Alan Browne was sent on – comically referred to as Alan Brownie by the stadium announcer – but the stirring of the Irish bench everyone had waited for came seven minutes later, with 11 minutes left in normal time.

Aaron Connolly made his senior debut as a replacement for Collins, set to inject some wonder into Ireland’s familiar labours against familiar opponents. He did so almost immediately – a one-two almost set Coleman away.

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Still Ireland’s clunky attack malfunctioned. A chance to break with McClean down the left perished with a dreadful Hourihane pass out of play, for which the latter earned a volley of anger from McClean.

Then, as the game ticked to injury-time, Connolly had his chances to bury this game as a bad prelude to the script everyone wanted to write ahead.

An instinctive shot in the penalty area was too close to Georgian ‘keeper Loria, however, and minutes later he skated onto a Whelan hoik upfield, left defenders trailing in his wake…but fired into the side netting. That he was responsible for two of Ireland’s three shots on target in a 15-minute cameo will lead to McCarthy fielding questions as to why Connolly wasn’t introduced earlier.

Ireland had one final chance, but Duffy headed Hendrick’s corner directly at Loria. 

The full-time whistle blew after that, and a couple of Ireland players slumped to the turf. It is an opportunity missed – but how sharply can it hurt if Ireland never looked capable of grabbing it?

Georgia: Giorgi Loria; Otar Kakabadze, Guram Kashia, Gia Grigalava, Jemal Tabidze; Jaba Kankava (c), Otar Kiteishvili (Giorgi Aburjania, 89′); Tornike Okriashvili (Elguja Lobjanidze, 78′), Jano Ananidze, Valeri Qazaishvili; Giorgi Kvilitaia (Levan Shengelia, 72′)

Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph; Seamus Coleman (c), Shane Duffy, John Egan, Matt Doherty; Glenn Whelan, Jeff Hendrick, Conor Hourihane (Derrick Williams, 90′); Callum Robinson (Alan Browne 72′), James Collins (Aaron Connolly, 78′), James McClean

Referee: Marco Guida (Italy)


About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, Tbilisi

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