MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) analyses the odds ahead of Ireland’s latest World Cup qualifying contest against Georgia in Dublin on Thursday night.
Republic of Ireland v Georgia | Thursday 19.45 | Sky Sports 2
It’s almost a year to the day since Shane Long gave Ireland a very famous victory over world champions Germany in Dublin but Martin O’Neill’s men now face another crunch encounter at the AVIVA with World Cup qualification at the top of the agenda.
The Boys In Green opened their account with a decent 2-2 draw in Serbia. On paper it was a solid start but the Republic were rather fortunate to escape with a share of the spoils despite a promising first 45 minutes.
Pitted in a devilishly difficult pool alongside the likes of Austria and Wales, Ireland will know nothing other than a win when welcoming Georgia to the capital will do with the former duo already off the mark with matchday one wins.
A record of seven wins from seven games against their Eastern European guests suggests 1/2 quotes are more than fair on a home success here but rarely have Ireland blown away the Black Sea boys with five of those triumphs achieved by a one-goal margin.
O’Neill’s charges did the double over Georgia en-route to Euro 2016 but neither encounter was straightforward; Ireland needed a 90th minute winner from Aiden McGeady in Tbilisi and a 69th minute goal from Jon Walters when they met at the AVIVA just over a year ago.
Both O’Neill and assistant Roy Keane have been at pains to point out to the press in midweek that this fixture will not be a stroll in the park – far from it. The hosts have a mounting injury list and whilst James McCarthy is the only starter that’s unlikely to feature, the visitors posed Austria plenty of problems in September.
Georgia were undone by sloppy defensive marking in the first-half, shipping two headed goals and passing up numerous opportunities of their own on matchday one. Valeri Kaziashvili then hit the bar before Jano Ananidze’s sensational long-range drive brought the match back into reach.
However, Austria clung on to take three vital Group D points and former Slovakia head coach Vladimír Weiss is determined to make up for that disappointment this week. Considering the Crusaders travel to Wales on Sunday, defeat in Dublin would spell disaster for Georgia’s qualification hopes.
Results don’t always tell the full story, either. Georgia have suffered 14 losses in their last 18 away games and since 2011 their road record reads W4-D3-L17. Those victories came against Luxembourg, Saudi Arabia, Gibraltar and an under-strength Spain as they fired blanks in 11/24 (46%) games as guests.
But three of their past five competitive defeats came by just a one-goal margin – against Germany, Ireland, Scotland and it took a 79th winner from Max Kruse to separate the sides in Leipzig. Only Poland (4-0) and Spain (2-0) enjoyed more breathing space when dispatching the Crusaders in front of their own fans.
Nevertheless, Ireland haven’t suffered a major embarrassment since a disastrous 5-2 humbling in Cyprus 10 years ago and their recent record when entertaining in the AVIVA deserves respect (W8-D5-L1) – that return includes eight (57%) clean sheets and nine (64%) successful Under 2.5 Goals selections.
Matches do tend to be tight when the Republic are involved and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see the Boys In Green struggle to see off their dogged, disciplined and physical opposition on Thursday night.
Since 2006 Ireland have hosted similar (or same) standing sides in qualifying such as, Georgia (twice), Kazakhstan, Estonia, Cyprus, Macedonia and Armenia and returned W5-D2-L0 with only Kazakhstan beaten by more than the odd goal.
Considering all the evidence and evaluation above, it makes the 12/5 (Betfair) available on Ireland to win by exactly one goal appealing. And I’m going to have a small nibble on the 1-0 correct score at 41/10 (888) – a result that proved profitable in Georgia’s trips to Dublin and Glasgow last year.