Saturday 18 November 2017

O'Neill: Serbia match becomes must-win for Republic after scare in Georgia

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill is targeting victory over Serbia
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill is targeting victory over Serbia

Martin O'Neill admitted the Republic of Ireland have to beat group leaders Serbia to get their World Cup qualifying campaign back on track after surviving a major scare in Georgia.

The Republic, who started the day level on points with the Serbs at the top of Group D, ended it two adrift after having to make do with a 1-1 draw in Tbilisi despite taking a fourth-minute lead.

On a night when his team might have lost, but passed up a good chance to win in stoppage time, O'Neill left the Boris Paichadze Stadium knowing victory over Serbia, who beat Moldova 3-0, on Tuesday night is a must if they are to keep alive their hopes of automatic qualification.

He said: "Yes, Serbia won and it will have to be a phenomenal effort to beat them on Tuesday. That's what we have to do.

"We have to obviously play better and give the Serbians less room to play than we gave the Georgians tonight, particularly in the first-half. We'll have to be really, really at our best to win the game - but we can do that."

It had all started so well for the visitors when defender Shane Duffy headed them in front, but Valeri Kazaishvili's equaliser 11 minutes before the break was no more than his side deserved, and it was they who looked the more likely winners until O'Neill threw caution to the win.

He had three strikers - Shane Long, Jonathan Walters and Daryl Murphy - and wingers James McClean and Aiden McGeady on the pitch for a late onslaught during which McGeady, who scored a last-gasp winner at the same stadium three years ago, fired over from close range in stoppage time.

O'Neill said: "I have seen it back since and it obviously didn't fall that kindly for him [McGeady]. But he has the ability, as he showed three years ago, to get it under control and score.

"Yes, I thought that might have been his moment, but it didn't materialise.

"We scored early on in the game and sat back and allowed Georgia to dominate the game and when we did get the ball, we gave it away cheaply and certainly the first-half was as poor as we have played this campaign.

"That said, we created a number of really, really good chances and probably on chances alone we could have won the game.

"But we didn't play well enough in the first-half and Georgia were better than us. We came here to try and win the game, but this was always going to be a tough match.

"Georgia have perhaps not the points on board that their play throughout the competition deserves."

Georgia boss Vladimir Weiss was delighted with his team's performance, but frustrated by their ongoing quest for a first victory of the campaign after a fourth draw.

He said: "Obviously our aim tonight was to get the three points and get the first win in the group.

"However, based on the fact that we were facing tough opponents who have players who play in the English Premier League at a quite a high level and play quite regularly, I suppose we have to be content with this result.

"It's a pity that we had some individual mistakes, especially the goal we conceded, but football without mistakes just does not happen and I am very happy with the way that my team played overall, with their effort.

"There are a few players I am particularly happy with, but overall, I would say the result was justified."

Press Association

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