Wednesday 23 January 2019

'Rather than go for the jugular we protected the lead' - McClean

Duffy: We can put things right. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Duffy: We can put things right. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

John Brennan

Did we gain a point or drop two in the humidity of Tbilisi on Saturday night?

Truly the answer to that question won't be known for a month or more yet, or maybe even two months if Ireland are forced into a World Cup play-off in November.

In all the pre-match punditry, no one dared predict what actually happened in this match: that Ireland would lead within minutes, then surrender the ball as we started to play 'hoofball', as though the sphere was filled with boiling oil.

Georgia, not surprisingly, equalised before half-time, a half in which Ireland completed just 62 passes.

And then, having been run out of it for the first 20 minutes of the second period, Ireland forced the issue and saw Shane Long, James McClean and Aiden McGeady squander great chances to win the game.

No wonder Irish manager Martin O'Neill didn't know what to make of it.

However, he had no trouble admitting one thing - this was the worst the team have played in the group - in fact, it was the worst display since Belgium took us apart in Bordeaux in 45 minutes of mayhem during Euro 2016.

"We scored early on in the game, great, then sat back and allowed Georgia to dominate. And when we did get the ball, we gave it away cheaply," said O'Neill.

"The first-half was as poor as we played in this campaign. That said, we created a number of great chances and on chances alone we could have won the game, but we did not play well enough in the first-half and Georgia were better than us."

"We'll have to play better, we'll have to give the Serbians less room to play than we did the Georgians. We will have to be at our best to win the Serbia game and we can do that."

Shane Duffy had the glory of scoring his first goal for Ireland in Tbilisi, but his thoughts were on turning the thing around in time for tomorrow's clash.

"Now at least we don't have to wait ages for the next match - it's on Tuesday and we can put this one right with a win over Serbia," said Duffy.

"We know we could be a lot better, but we had to grind it out at the end and defend. A point away from home sometimes is good, but we made it tough for ourselves."

For Duffy's fellow Derryman James McClean, there was only annoyance about the draw.

"We're not happy, we didn't deserve to win the game. We scored early on and rather than go for the jugular we just sat back and protected the lead.

"We looked flat, I don't know what it was, but they were by far the better side. We were better in the second-half, but by then, I don't know.

"It's a tough place to come, we're disappointed. We would have liked three points, but we got one."

McClean's post-match thoughts were also on his own missed chance to grab the win, no matter how undeserved it might have been.

"The fact that the it's been dry here, the pitch was watered. I took a touch and it skidded away from me. Before I know it, the keeper is on top of me. Look, it was a good chance, we've had a few good chances."

"We're bitterly disappointed, but we can't beat ourselves up too much. There's still a job here to do and now we know what we have to do," added McClean.

For full-back Cyrus Christie, whose sweetly floated free-kick led to Duffy's early goal, it was a frustrating night.

"We got a point that maybe we shouldn't have. But then we missed those chances for the win at the end..." and his voice trailed off into what might have been.

Stephen Ward sees the parallels with the Germany game two years ago, when Ireland's backs were against the wall in Euro qualifying.

"It may be a bit like that, it's still in our hands. For the Germany game we still needed a bit of luck from somewhere, a result to go our way. This time it's still in our hands, three wins and we'll be there," said the Burnley full-back.

"So we have to keep the head, it's a case of disappointment today, but we'll hopefully improve for tomorrow night."

Quizzed on the mood in the camp in the immediate aftermath, Ward didn't hold back.

"Disappointment is the word I'd use. We didn't play great.

"In the second-half we improved, we had three big chances to win the game, unfortunately one didn't go in, and honestly it would have been harsh on Georgia. But look, we are still in it, still in with a right chance, it's in our own hands."

So now it is about Serbia and getting the win, but beating a higher ranked team at home has proved difficult for Ireland.

"We need to improve everywhere," Ward said candidly.

"The manager said after the game that we have been in this situation before, we need to dust ourselves down and put in a much better performance at home in front of our own supporters."

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