A lot done...more to do for Republic
Georgia 1 Republic of Ireland 2
Published 08/09/2008 | 10:43
Another night of injury-time frustration for Ireland but not principally in digesting the consolation goal which Georgia grabbed in the dying seconds in Mainz.
Instead, it was the smash and grab raid pulled off by Italy in Cyprus that put a slight dampener on proceedings. Otherwise -- with Bulgaria managing to salvage only a point in Montenegro -- it would have been the perfect start on the road to South Africa.
That's not to say the Irish performance was perfect as they took all three points from this surreal occasion. Far from it, in fact.
Ultimately, though, it was a deserved success that never truly looked in doubt although the howler from Georgian keeper Giorgi Loria which allowed Ireland to crucially double their advantage midway through the second half did come at a time when Giovanni Trapattoni's side were in the midst of a sluggish phase.
The counterpoint to that argument is that Shay Given didn't have a save to make in that period. Even when Ireland fell into the old habit of sloppily conceding possession, they regained their shape just as quickly with the assumption being that they are coming around to their manager's way of thinking.
"It's still only starting out, in terms of understanding the way he wants to play", admits first-half goalscorer Kevin Doyle.
"How he wants us to react in different situations. He is trying to do it little by little, not lump it all onto us at once. I am sure he will not be very happy with the goal at the end.
"Concentration is one of the main words we hear. He's said it to us that he's looked at videos from the past and thinks we've played well but just lapses in concentration have cost us. I think it's his favourite word," the Reading man added.
Afterwards in the dressing room, the players had a chat and acknowledged that Montenegro on Wednesday will be a more difficult proposition not just in terms of ability but with the added factor of the warm climate. And although Scotland manager George Burley said the heat wasn't a contributing factor to his team's loss in Macedonia, it did seem as if it played a part, so Ireland need to be wary.
Georgia's big problem was that they lacked depth in quality. In teenage playmaker Levan Kenia, who capitalised on Irish caution to blast home from close range in time added on, they have a future star on their hands. But around the park, he was let down by colleagues of significantly inferior ability.
Ireland, on the other hand, had better players who albeit only provided glimpses of what they are capable of.
Take Aiden McGeady for example, who failed to impress over the duration but was central to both goals, particularly Doyle's opener which arose from his deadly accurate cross following tidy build-up play from Robbie Keane and Steven Reid.
The latter was Ireland's most effective man on the night, building on the promise he showed in Norway. Alongside, Glenn Whelan he performed the duties asked of him, by helping to dictate the tempo and taking a prominent role in proceedings.
For the Stoke midfielder, the bonus point came in the 70th minute when his strike from distance was spectacularly misjudged by Loria, much to the delight of the Irish fans -- who made up the majority of the 4,500 crowd -- that were congregated behind the hapless 22-year-old's goal.
It was the bit of luck that Ireland needed to secure a lead which they had held since the 12th minute. A lot of the ruminations in the build-up had been about this side's inability to keep a firm grip of an advantage and while they had wavered from the script prior to Whelan's strike, there was a general assurance.
More pertinently, Trapattoni lived up to his reputation of being ultra conservative when in front meaning that Andy Reid was curiously benched throughout with insult added to injury when Liam Miller was introduced in place of Doyle to take up the role that the Italian had outlined for Reid by playing just off Keane. Missing the summer trip to Portugal has proved very costly indeed for the 26-year-old.
As the game entered the final minutes, however, Trapattoni deployed Miller to drop deeper and provide extra support to the defensive block but despite that extra layer of caution Ireland still sloppily conceded.
In some respects, it could work as a positive ahead of Wednesday in terms of sharpening the mind rather than getting too complacent or deluded about how much progress has actually been made. Nevertheless, a result on the road cannot be sniffed at, even if it didn't really have the genuine away game feel. Robbie Keane disagreed with that sentiment, however.
"When you get on a plane and then get on a coach for an hour or so then it feels like an away game", he stressed.
"It will be tougher on Wednesday but take nothing away from Georgia. At times they did well, but it was a good team performance from us tonight."
This was a solid start. Nothing more, nothing less. Certainly, in the context of the perpetual chaos which engulfed the last campaign, a benign and merited success is probably just what this team needed.
Georgia -- Loria, Lobjanidze, Kaladze, Shashiashvili, Kenia, Aleksidze (Siradze 62), Iashvili (Mchedildze 78), Kobiashvili, Khizanishvili (Asatiani 83), Odikadze, Menteshashvili.
Ireland -- Given, Finnan (McShane 80), Kilbane, O'Shea, Dunne, Whelan, McGeady (Keogh 87), Steven Reid, Doyle (Miller 77), Keane, Hunt.
REF -- Z Szabo (Hungary)