Monday 5 December 2016

Coleman drags ragged Ireland across the line

Ireland 1 Georgia 0

Published 07/10/2016 | 02:30

Seamus Coleman taps the ball over the line from very close range to give Ireland the victory against Georgia. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Seamus Coleman taps the ball over the line from very close range to give Ireland the victory against Georgia. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

Cometh the hour, cometh the Coleman.

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Ireland's captain picked the ideal time to break his international duck as he rescued a win from a drab affair at the Aviva Stadium that again posed questions about Ireland's direction.

In search of inspiration, Coleman came to the fore in the second half to embark on a solo run that concluded with a scrappy strike that just about summed up this encounter.

Martin O'Neill had warned that Georgia would be a tough nut to crack - five of Ireland's six competitive victories over their visitors were decided by a one goal margin.

Struggle

He may not have been surprised that this was a struggle, but the 39,000 crowd was underwhelmed by a battle that ended with a worrying Robbie Brady head injury and a booking for Jeff Hendrick that rules both out of Sunday's game in Moldova.

Republic of Irelands Jonathan Walters (right) and Georgias Georgi Navalovski battle for the ball. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Republic of Irelands Jonathan Walters (right) and Georgias Georgi Navalovski battle for the ball. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

And O'Neill conceded that Ireland had to improve, with strong half-time words provoking an improvement that was followed by an honest enough assessment from the Derryman.

"They controlled the game in the first half," he conceded. "But in the second half, without being brilliant, we did enough to turn it around and win.

"We had a few problems today but we came through it. We have a will to win and those things carried us through."

Georgia's dismal away record in competitive games had earned them the reputation for being dodgy on their travels, but they looked like the home side for large spells of the first half as they passed the ball around assuredly.

Republic of Ireland's Jeff Hendrick (centre) during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Republic of Ireland's Jeff Hendrick (centre) during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

Ireland were distinctly average, sitting deep and struggling to play with any intensity despite going back to the formula from the Euros, with James McCarthy, Jeff Hendrick, James McClean and Robbie Brady forming what looked like a midfield diamond on paper.

In practice, it was closer to a 4-5-1 at times, with Jon Walters pushed to the right and Shane Long isolated through the centre.

At the heart of the back four, O'Neill shuffled the deck again, with Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark stepping in for the Serbian pairing John O'Shea and Richard Keogh.

Walters was the only 30-something in his starting side so this was arguably a window to the future and it didn't make for pleasant viewing as Ireland struggled to dictate.

"We were very, very ordinary in the first half," said O'Neill. "We didn't start cleverly and couldn't get close enough. At home, we need to be on the front foot."

The calmness of the benched Wes Hoolahan was missed as Ireland lacked subtlety and the visitors were well able to handle themselves physically, with McClean trying to ruffle feathers.

He was involved in an early penalty shout and Long then had a valid claim, yet it was not an indication of what was to come as the white shirts were sharper in possession.

In truth, Georgia should have led at the break. Legia Warsaw's Valeri Kazaishvili shot wide after one flowing move and he also stabbed the ball at Darren Randolph from close range after nipping between the keeper and Coleman.

The best chance came in a frantic spell where they hit the woodwork twice with Levan Mchedlidze's glancing header coming back off the bar before the follow-up from Guram Kashia also came back off the woodwork with Irish bodies all at sea. There was a smattering of boos at the break.

Ireland had to step up - Walters referred to a lively half-time chat - and their skipper grabbed the initiative.

Seizing control just inside the Georgian half, he wriggled away from Giorgi Navalovski, who kept up the pursuit as the diminutive Donegal man took a circuitous route into the box by the endline.

What followed was a comedy of errors as his attempted cross to Walters struck Kashia and then rebounded against Coleman and then the other Georgian centre-half, Soloman Kverkvelia via a touch from Walters that allowed the Everton full-back to continue his run and force the ball across the line, with keeper Giorgi Loria bizarrely frozen to the spot.

It was an odd passage that stunned the Georgians and Ireland almost added another, with O'Neill celebrating a converted header from McClean until he realised that the linesman had flagged for offside.

The away side had their moments in the period that followed with anxiety the prevailing mood in the stands.

But Ireland did then enjoy spells of possession, with McCarthy coming to life as Georgia suddenly looked a bit tired. "We closed them down better," said the manager.

McClean had the freedom to line up a couple of long-range attempts and Coleman urged his troops to get forward in numbers after another mazy run was cut off.

The chance to wrap up the points came at the end of another lengthy passage when a Stephen Ward cross was helped across the area by Long and Brady was unable to convert in an attempt that resulted in a nasty clash of heads with Kverkvelia.

Immediately, the players around realised that Norwich man was out cold, with representatives of both camps helping him out as medics sprinted on.

Kverkvelia played on with a head bandage but, after a lengthy stoppage, Brady was stretchered off. He came around in the dressing-room before going to hospital, and concussion rules make Chisinau a no-go.

A booking for Hendrick then ruled him out and Long limped off at the death. O'Neill is hopeful that the striker will be fine.

Pain was a theme of the exercise but, after seven added minutes and a close-range McClean header against the bar, Ireland held out.

Irish Independent

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