REPUBLIC OF IRELAND continue their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a tough contest in Georgia on Saturday afternoon. Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) sets the scene.
Georgia v Republic of Ireland | Saturday 12th October 2019, 14:00 | Sky Sports
Georgia and Ireland lock horns competitively for the tenth time in 16 years on Saturday. The two teams know each other well having faced off in each of the past two qualifying campaigns, with this Tbilisi tie the sixth meaningful match between the pair in five years. Those previous contests have often proven cagey affairs and this should be no different.
Georgia have yet to take top honours against the Republic but recent battles have been tight despite the W4-D1-L0 return in Ireland’s favour. Three of those games ended in 1-0 victories, all four triumphs were achieved by narrow one-goal margins, whilst four fixtures finished with fewer than three goals.
It’s a path I’m very keen to explore once more with the 1-0 correct score (5/1 BetVictor) appealing, Ireland to win by one goal of interest at 29/10 (Sport Nation), as well as my match NAP being ROI double chance and Under 3 Goals at 8/11 with Bet365.
Ireland have W4-D2-L0 under Mick McCarthy’s watch, topping the group as we enter the final furlong. Points on the board is the only stat that matters right now but even the stout Yorkshireman must be aware his team have rarely produced performances to be proud of in this campaign. Nevertheless, the final four fixtures were always going to be decisive.
The unbeaten streak includes two wins over Gibraltar whereas both Denmark and Switzerland still have one more game to go against the minnows. The Boys In Green have to travel to Geneva on Thursday after this Georgia match-up, as well as welcoming the Danes to Dublin in November; winning here will put Ireland in a position of real promise.
Georgian minds elsewhere?
Why? Well Denmark dropped points in a surprising 0-0 draw earlier in the campaign, highlighting the potential threat posed by the Caucasus country. As mentioned, ROI also know all about Georgia’s ability to upset in Tbilisi, dropping points here in 2017 to derail World Cup ambitions, whilst in 2014 an injury time Aiden McGeady winner was required.
However, there is a small smidgen of hope for the visitors. With Georgia already out of the running for a top-two finish, the Eurasians can concentrate their attention on the March play-offs having already guaranteeing a place after dominating their Nations League pool.
The Crusaders are effectively two games away from Euro 2020, meaning there is less emphasis on producing a positive result from Saturday’s showdown.
Ireland defensive reshuffle
For a fair few years now, Ireland’s strength has been in their team ethic and resolute defensive structure. It can bore supporters to tears but also prove effective in negating threats from opposition outfits, although McCarthy will need to significantly alter his backline for this occasion.
Suspension rules Enda Stevens out at left-back, whilst Richard Keogh’s absence also breaks up the settled back-four. John Egan and Matt Doherty are capable players to come into the team, whilst Shane Duffy’s swift recovery is a bonus, it’s hardly an ideal situation coming into a pair of hugely decisive contests for the Boys In Green.
The betting angles
As already outlined, I’ll be having three plays on this encounter that all follow a familiar pattern – Ireland double chance and Under 3 Goals (8/11 Bet365), Ireland to win by exactly one goal (29/10 Sport Nation) and the 1-0 correct score (5/1 BetVictor).
Four of the Republic’s seven wins over the past two years have come by a one-goal margins, with two of the exceptions in 2-0 victories over minnows Moldova and Gibraltar. The figure would have been five had Ireland not scored a third goal in stoppage-time of their 3-1 friendly victory over Bulgaria last month.
There’s a serious lack of offensive firepower in the squad with Shane Long overlooked once again. Of those selected, James McClean is the top scorer with 10 goals from 69 caps, but no one else has scored more than two for the national side as the Stoke winger accounts for 50% of the squads’ combined output.
Meanwhile, Georgia have been beaten by a solitary strike in eight of their last 10 defeats when excluding results against Germany, Poland and Denmark, with six of these finishing 1-0. The hosts are well capable of frustrating more illustrious opposition and should put on a competitive effort in what Ireland will be hoping is a brave Saturday afternoon defeat.