Georgia v Republic of Ireland: Tbilisi key to Irish hopes

Ireland boss Mick McCarthy
Mick McCarthy's men look capable of winning in Tbilisi says Dan
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Ireland have mixed memories of Tbilisi and the tale of this trip will likely determine the course of their Euro 2020 qualification hopes says Daniel McDonnell...

"A variety of permutations are open at this point but the simplest one to explain is that winning the Georgia match will leave Ireland in a position of control"

Georgia v Republic of Ireland
Saturday, 14.00
Live On Sky Sports Football

Irish go on the road

Ireland's position at the top of their Euro 2020 qualifying group presents a slightly misleading picture of where things stand coming into the home stretch.

Mick McCarthy and his players would probably admit as much, even though the points on the board have been hard earned. The unbeaten stretch of five games includes two wins over Gibraltar whereas both Denmark and Switzerland still have one more game to go against the minnows.

In truth, the double header on the road in October was always going to be key for McCarthy's side with Saturday's early kickoff in Georgia followed by a trip to Geneva for a showdown with the top seeds three days later. Denmark's visit to Irish shores next month concludes the group.

A variety of permutations are open at this point but the simplest one to explain is that winning the Georgia match will leave Ireland in a position of control, and ease the pressure heading into the meeting with a Swiss side that was superior for long spells in last month's 1-1 draw in Dublin before David McGoldrick's late leveller saved the day for the hosts.

But Ireland know there's nothing straightforward about a meeting with the Georgians, and not just because Denmark were frustrated in a scoreless draw there last month

Georgian priorities

Ireland havedrawn Georgia in their last three major tournament qualifying campaigns, but this is a first visit there for Mick McCarthy. His players know how tough things can be in Tbilisi, with dropped points in September 2017 derailing their World Cup ambitions.

Back in 2014, an injury time Aiden McGeady winner was required. Georgia have never beaten Ireland, but the majority of their matches have been settled by a one goal margin. Georgia have lost all three visits to Dublin by a 1-0 scoreline. All the evidence points to a sticky afternoon for the guests.

It does help, however, that Georgian priorities are skewed somewhat. They are already guaranteed a playoff to make Euro 2020 after dominating their UEFA Nations League group, and they stand to benefit from a change in qualification structure which means that one of the lowest 16 ranked teams at the start of the tournament will make it to the finals. Georgia are 180 minutes from glory next March. Once they were out of contention to finish in the top two this group, minds have focused on the build-up towards those playoffs. This isn't a matter of life and death for them.

By contrast, this means everything to Ireland. Shane Duffy has made a swift recovery from inury to put himself in contention, but a suspension for Enda Stevens and the car crash shame of Derby's Richard Keogh has broken up a settled back four. However, midfielders Conor Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick both scored for their clubs last weekend and the arrival of Brighton starlet Aaron Connolly into the squad has freshened up the forward department.

With Sheffield United's John Egan on hand to replace Keogh and Wolves' Matt Doherty likely to try his hand at left full in place of Stevens, Ireland actually arrive with a number of individuals in good form. They rode their luck against the Swiss, and it's difficult to be optimistic about Tuesday, but there's a real incentive to throw all energies into this match.

In the circumstances, the trading odds of [2.34] on an away win is appealing.

Don't expect goals

If that doesn't float your boat, then the prospect of a low scoring affair is similarly priced.

The availability of [2.36] on Under 1.5 Goals stands out as a worthwhile play in the context of previous meetings.

Georgia's better displays tend to come in low scoring affairs. In last month's scoreless draw with Denmark, they sat in before the break to gain a foothold and only showed attacking ambition in the second 45. They might want to attack Ireland's makeshift defence but it's easy to envisage a cagey affair. McCarthy's team did succeed in pressing high in Dublin and creating chances that way, but it still came down to a set piece to break the deadlock. First choice striker McGoldrick is absent so McCarthy will have to find a new front man with Luton's James Collins in contention. The alternative is to relocate Callum Robinson to a central berth.

In every scenario, it might just take time to click. The Unders is the play, with trading potential if things only start to open up after the interval

Hendrick a contender

Conor Hourihane got the only goal in the previous meeting, but his midfield partner Jeff Hendrick has come into some form at Burnley, nabbing goals against Brighton and Everton over the past month. He's been encouraged to work on his attacking play by this Ireland regime. If Duffy is picked, he will be the focus for Georgia when they defend corners and free kicks. Hendrick might just slip under the radar and could be looked at in the To Score market for small money.

Daniel McDonnell,

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