While many eyebrows were raised when it was revealed that Glenn Whelan would replace Matt Doherty in the Ireland starting XI for tonight’s match against Georgia, the Irish performance in the first half was incomparable with that from the weekend’s underwhelming 1-0 win over Gibraltar. Cork native Conor Hourihane scored the only goal of the game to give Ireland a deserved 1-0 win that Mick McCarthy’s team top of Euro 2020 qualification Group D after Switzerland and Denmark played out a 3-3 draw.
On the front foot from the start, Ireland had a great chance early on when Hourihane found himself through on goal 25 yards from goal. He continued his run and with an option of passing to McGoldrick, he chose to shoot from just inside the box, forcing visiting goalkeeper Loria into an excellent save.
McGoldrick and McClean would have good chances themselves which fizzed narrowly wide in and around the 20 minute mark.
The midway mark saw the Georgians come into somewhat. They forced a corner with Kvilitaia heading goalwards and Randolph and Whelan doing well to scoop the ball away from just inside the post.
McGoldrick was put through on goal 25 yards out 13 minutes before half-time but was tripped by Kashia which saw the centre-half yellow carded. In the brief delay that came between then and the free-kick being taken, dozens and dozens of tennis balls thrown onto the pitch at the Georgia end. This had been expected, as had the sporadic but very loud chants of “They always cheat, they always lie, f*ck Delaney and the FAI.”
The tennis-balls were eventually cleared. Conor Hourihane stood up to take the free-kick and went on to curl a peach of a left footed strike just inside the near post, giving Loria no chance in the visitors’ goal.
Ireland continued to dominate until the last few minutes of the first half when a great save from Randolph from a Kankava effort who was found totally unmarked 12 yards from goal with Coleman bundling the ball away for a corner as the half ticked into injury-time.
The home side would weather that brief storm and saw themselves deservedly lead 1-0 at the broke. It could have been at least one more.
Georgia won a free-kick early inside the second-half just outside the corner of the penalty area for an overly strong tackle from McClean on Kakabadze. Gvilia wasted the resultant free-kick, putting it yards over the bar.
Hourihane then whipped a great free-kick into the box but confusion in the box leads to a Georgia free out on 51 minutes.
After a lovely build up, Brady played Coleman in and he forced a save from Loria before Hendrick tapped into the empty net but the goal is ruled out for a very narrow offside on 57 minutes.
Georgia make the first substitution of the night with 19 year-old Kharabadze replacing Khocolava on 65 minutes.
The visitors came close with Kiteishvilli smashing a shot about a yard over the bar from two yards outside the box.
McGoldrick then had a great chance 20 minutes from time. Stevens plays the ball to McGoldrick who rounds the Georgian ‘keeper but runs out of pitch and lofts the ball wide from the by-line.
Striker Qazaishvlii replaces Arveladze with 18 minutes to play.
Ireland’s first substitution is Robbie Brady being replaced by Aidan O’Brien. It’s a brave substitution and Ireland continue on the front foot but the visitors aren’t without the occasional chance themselves.
David McGoldrick put in a great shift tonight and is very loudly cheered by the crowd. On comes Doherty for him on 81 minutes.
Georgia come very close when captain Kankava smashes one off the outside of the post from 25 yards after 84 minutes. That would have been harsh on Ireland.
The ball falls to the unmarked Kankava again who smashes it yards over this time from 25 yards out on 88 minutes.
There’s a lot of tired Irish bodies on the pitch as the game reaches its conclusion.
The fourth official indicates there’ll be four minutes of injury time which is greeted with loud jeers from the home crowd.
Shortly afterwards, David McGoldrick is announced as the man-of-the-match by the PA which is greeted with loud cheers.
The four minutes of injury-time tick by interminably before Stevens is released on the left flank and rolls the ball down the flannk with the final whistle finally blown.
Switzerland and Georgia draw 3-3, with the Swiss having been 3-0 up with eight minutes to play, meaning Ireland top Euro 2020 qualification group D at the end of the night. Next up for Ireland is Denmark in June in Copenhagen.