'We didn't play well': Martin O'Neill rues Ireland's abject first half display but offers little by way of explanation
Martin O’Neill willingly conceded that Ireland’s first half display during their victory over Georgia was patently abject, but was unable to offer a coherent explanation as to why it occurred.
Once again, the desire to celebrate a positive result was tempered by the manner in which it was secured.
Following the draw with Serbia and tonight’s 1-0 win over a game but shaky Georgia side, Ireland have taken four of a possible six points from their opening two games of this nascent World Cup qualification campaign.
With that said, the intensity and cohesion that was often evident in France this summer has yet to materialise.
Ireland’s performance in the opening 45 minutes against a Georgian side they are well acquainted with was arguably the worst of O’Neill’s tenure.
It was the 39th minute before Ireland registered a shot on goal, when Jon Walters' improvised overhead kick flew over the bar.
While a lack of nous is standard with this Irish side, a lack of endeavour is not. Indeed, they were as profligate with the ball as they were impotent without it.
As Walters and goal scorer Seamus Coleman have since revealed, O’Neill let the team have it at the break and they returned with a more recognisable vim.
Nine minutes into the second half Coleman’s meandering run eventually resulted in him poking home his first goal in an Irish jersey.
Speaking to RTÉ after the win, O’Neill spoke to his side’s indifferent start but struggled to account for it.
“We didn’t play well, in the first half particularly. We were second best, they played well themselves and we didn’t get close enough, but we turned it round.
“This side (Ireland) is capable of winning games when it’s not playing well, and that’s what they did tonight.
“The players have plenty of confidence but when you don’t start a game well and you allow the opposition too much of the ball on our pitch, it take you a little while to get back on track and it took us most of the first half to do so.”
After the turn, the Georgians were not permitted nearly as much time or space and, in time, Ireland began to find their stride. James McClean hit the upright twice with fine headers but so it stayed.
O’Neill lauded both his captain and the opponents.
“In the second half we came out and pressed them then. We got back in the game in the second half, primarily because we pressed them well. Coleman was excellent in the game, really excellent – he pulled that game for us.
“We’ve had three games now against Georgia, two in the qualifications in the Euros, and we’ve had to dig very deep in all three matches. We’re delighted to win the game and obviously we can play better."
Jeff Hendrick’s yellow card means he is suspended for Sunday’s trip to Moldova, but O’Neill was sceptical about the possibility of calling on the in form Harry Arter, who is nursing a tight hamstring.