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Scrappy Seamus Coleman strike sees Ireland edge Georgia despite ropey first half


Martin O’Neill has already argued that his Ireland side are slow starters but, on the evidence of this dour game and this hugely competitive group, they are going to have pick up speed soon.

Perhaps appropriately, that was precisely what Seamus Coleman had to do to avoid what would have been costly dropped points at home and give Ireland a 1-0 win over Georgia. The moment summed up so many of the issues with the team right now, issues that were only compounded by Robbie Brady’s injury and Jeff Hendrick’s second booking for a suspension.

Because, up until the 56th minute, Ireland had barely been able to put a move of any kind of craft together. They were uncreative and predictable, only ever playing diagonal long balls that were so easily defended. So, as if almost frustrated with how stodgy the game was, Coleman just decided to sprint forward and see where it would take him. Thanks to the sluggishness of three Georgian players, it took the captain right to the edge of the box, until he tried to play in Jon Walters. The ball ricocheted around, until it finally ricocheted off Coleman and into the net.

You could say it was a goal befitting of the match, except Georgia might quibble they at least tried to play some football in the first half. They certainly looked likelier to score in that period, and had created the better chances. They should even have been 1-0 up when Levan Mchedlidze hit the crossbar with a header, and then Guram Kashia did the same when improvising with the rebound. The best Ireland had in response was an ambitious Jonny Walters overhead that was never going in, and they still needed Coleman to cut out what looked another threatening run from Valeri Kazaishvili just moments later.

With the pattern continuing into the second half, Coleman decided to take responsibility in another way, and just cut through the Georgian half. Vladimir Weiss’s side now had to go looking for a goal and, since Ireland were now able to play the countering football that better suits them, it was no surprise this actually made them look more threatening too.

There was more space for the players to run into, and deep crosses were causing more damage. It was then that damage was done to the Irish team in a different way.

First of all, Brady had a hugely unfortunate head injury with Solomon Kverkvelia, that left him on the ground for five minutes. While the Georgian was able to go back with a bandaged bloody head, however, Brady had to be taken off.

He is now a serious doubt for the trip to Moldova on Sunday, and that is all the more important since Hendrick is definitely out. Just moments after Brady was taken off, the Burnley midfielder made an ill-advised high challenge, and got his second booking of the campaign in just two games.

It surely means Wes Hoolahan will start against Moldova, but Ireland could badly have done with his craft here, in what was a poor performance completely lacking in creativity.

James McClean almost scored a second late on with a header against the bar, but it was just more blunt force.

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Ireland will need much more if they are to get out of this group.

They also need maximum points against the bottom seeds, of course, and that at least is a start. It just didn’t provide much confidence in terms of how it will all finish.

O'Neill should hope that his match-winning captain has set a different pace.

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