DUBLIN (Reuters) - Captain Seamus Coleman’s first international goal handed a relieved Ireland a 1-0 World Cup Group D qualifying win over Georgia despite producing a lacklustre display on Thursday.
After battling for a draw in a scrappy opening game in Serbia, Ireland were utterly flat and careless in possession throughout the first half and were fortunate to end it on level terms with Georgia.
Danger man Valeri Kazaishvili fired a warning shot for the visitors after 15 minutes when he flashed the first chance of the match wide.
Then, facing little resistance, Georgia hit the woodwork twice in a matter of seconds just after the half hour.
Levan Mchedlidze nodded the ball against the crossbar after the defence failed to clear a corner before Guram Kashia looped a second header back across goal only for it to bounce off the post.
Georgia, who are ranked 137th in the world and lost at home to Austria in their opening game, were full of confidence and Legia Warsaw’s Kazaishvili caught out a flat-footed Coleman to shoot straight at keeper Darren Randolph.
A different Ireland emerged after halftime and, in the 56th minute, Coleman dribbled into the box unattended before a loose ball made its way back to the Everton full back who was practically on the goal line when he poked it home.
Ireland, who had beaten Georgia in all seven of their previous meetings including two victories in a successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, could have made it 2-0 minutes later but James McClean’s header was ruled offside.
McClean smashed another header against the bar in injury time as his side hung on to move level with Wales, Austria and Serbia at the top with four points from two games ahead of Sunday’s trip to bottom-of-the-table Moldova.
Georgia next face Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales.
“We came out in the second half and pressed them higher,” said Ireland forward Jon Walters. “It’s a win and we’ll take that all day.”
Editing by Tony Jimenez