Belfast Telegraph

Coleman leads by example for Irish

Rep of Ireland 1 - Georgia 0

By Daniel McDonnell

Cometh the hour, cometh the Coleman. The Republic of Ireland's captain picked the ideal time to break his international duck and rescue a win from a drab affair at the Aviva Stadium that again posed questions about the direction the Irish are heading in.

In search of inspiration, Seamus Coleman came to the fore in the second half to embark on a solo run that concluded with a scrappy strike that summed up this encounter.

Martin O'Neill had warned that Georgia would be a tough nut to crack and that five of the Republic's six competitive victories over their visitors were decided by a one-goal margin.

He may not have been surprised that this was a struggle, but the 39,000 crowd was underwhelmed by a battle that ended with worrying injuries for Shane Long and Robbie Brady, and a second booking for Jeff Hendrick which rules him out of Sunday's trip to Moldova.

Georgia's dismal away record in competitive games had earned them the reputation for being dodgy on their travels.

But they looked like the home side for large spells of the first half as they passed the ball around assuredly. The Republic were distinctly average.

With Wes Hoolahan the only real game changer on the bench, O'Neill was reliant on a strong showing from his starting side, but it didn't happen.

He went back to the formula from the Euros with James McCarthy, Hendrick, James McClean and Robbie Brady forming a midfield diamond.

Brady was tasked with the creative role behind Long and Jonathan Walters.

At the heart of the back four, O'Neill shuffled the deck again with Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark stepping in for the Serbian pairing of John O'Shea and Richard Keogh.

Walters was the only 30-something in the starting side, so this was arguably a window to the future, and it didn't make for pleasant viewing as the Irish struggled to dictate the tempo.

The visitors actually got the better of some physical exchanges despite the best efforts of McClean to unsettle them.

He was involved in an early penalty appeal, and Long then had a valid shout, yet it was not an indication of what was to come.

The white shirts were sharper in possession and more intelligent in their movement.

The Republic were exceptionally one-dimensional, and when free-kicks on the halfway line were a signal for a punt forward, a worrying insight into the approach was offered.

In truth, Georgia should have gone into the interval ahead. Legia Warsaw's Valeri Kazaishvili shot wide after one move which included over 30 passes in the build-up, and he also stabbed at Darren Randolph from close range after nipping between the keeper and Coleman.

The best chance came in a frantic spell where they hit the woodwork twice with Levan Mchedlidze's glancing header coming back off the bar before the follow-up from Guram Kashia also hit the post with Irish bodies all at sea.

There was a smattering of boos at the break.

The Republic had to improve and their skipper grabbed the initiative. Coleman was visible from the restart, although there were groans when he misjudged a pass.

His next contribution was much better. Seizing control just inside the Georgian half, he wriggled away from Giorgi Navalovski who kept up the pursuit as the diminutive Donegal man took a circuitous route into the box by the perimeter of the pitch.

What followed was a comedy of errors as his attempted cross to Walters struck Guram Kashia and rebounded against Coleman and then the other Georgian centre-half, Soloman Kverkvelia, via a touch from Walters that allowed the full-back to continue his run and force the ball across the line with keeper Giorgi Loria frozen to the spot.

It was the kind of goal that the game deserved and the home side almost added another with O'Neill celebrating a converted header from McClean until he realised that the linesman had flagged for offside.

Georgia had their moments in the period that followed, with anxiety the prevailing mood in the stands. But the Republic did then enjoy spells of possession where the Georgians stood off, and they began to look comfortable with McCarthy coming to life.

McClean had the freedom to line up a couple of long-range attempts that Loria just about managed to keep hold of, and Coleman urged his troops to get forward.

The chance to wrap up the points came at the end of another lengthy passage when a Stephen Ward cross was helped across the area by Long and Brady was unable to convert in an attempt that resulted in a nasty clash of heads with Kverkvelia.

Immediately the players around realised that the Norwich man was in trouble, with representatives of both camps helping.

Kverkvelia played on but, after a lengthy stoppage, Brady was stretchered off. A booking for Hendrick then ruled him out of Chisinau and Long limped off.

Pain was a theme of the exercise but, after seven added minutes and a close-range McClean header against the bar, the Republic held out.

REP OF IRELAND: Randolph, Coleman, Duffy, Clark, Ward, McCarthy, Hendrick, Brady (Whelan, 79 mins), Walters, Long (O'Shea, 90 mins), McClean. Unused subs: Lawlor, Keogh, O'Kane, Hoolahan, Christie, Meyler, McShane, Hayes, Pearce, Danny Rogers.

Georgia: Loria, Kakabadze, Kvirkvelia, Kashia, Navalovski (Kobakhidze, 89 mins), Daushvili (Kacharava, 90 mins), Qazaishvili, Gvilia, Okriashvili, Mchedlidze, Ananidze (Skhirtladze, 73 mins). Unused subs: Kvaskhvadze, Dvali, Dvalishvili, Kvilitaia, Parunashvili, Tsiskaridze, Jigauri, Papunashvili, Makaridze.

Referee: Tony Chapron (France)

Man of the match: Seamus Coleman

Match rating: 5/10

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