Ireland left to rue McGeady’s miss

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Aviva Premiership - By Damian Spell­man in Tbil­isi

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 with the Serbs at the top of Group D, ended it two points adrift af­ter hav­ing to make do with a 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. 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 and when we did get the ball, we gave it away cheaply. 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 over here to try and win, but this was al­ways go­ing to be a tough match.

“Ge­or­gia have per­haps not got the points on board that their play through­out the com­pe­ti­tion de­serves.”

Vladimir Weiss, the Ge­or­gia coach, 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 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 who I am par­tic­u­larly happy with, but over­all, I would say the re­sult was jus­ti­fied.”

Break­through: Shane Duffy (top) climbs high­est to head Ireland into an early lead in Tbil­isi

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