Seamus Coleman turned in a captain’s performance as his first senior international goal handed the Republic of Ireland a World Cup qualifier victory over Georgia they scarcely deserved.
On a night when midfielder Robbie Brady was carried from the field on a stretcher, and wearing an oxygen mask following a sickening clash of heads with defender Solomon Kverkvelia, Coleman bundled home from close range 11 minutes after the restart as two helpful deflections opened up an unlikely path to goal.
Ireland were poor for long periods, his intervention proved decisive and secured three Group D points to go with the one they claimed in Serbia last month, although the are many questions to be answered ahead of Sunday’s trip to Moldova.
Georgia boss Vladimir Weiss had spoken during the build-up to the game of the bad luck which had afflicted his side before he took over the reins, and it was in evidence once again in Dublin as striker Levan Mchedlidze and skipper Guram Kashia both hit the woodwork within seconds before the break.
The Republic were marginally better in the second half than they had been in the first, but their victory was far from convincing and with tougher tests ahead, sizeable improvement is required.
Martin O’Neill’s squad was depleted by injuries, but there was disquiet among his critics when the manager named a starting line-up which did not include arguably his most creative player, Wes Hoolahan.
By the time the half-time whistle sounded, the nay-sayers were in full voice with Ireland having turned in a tepid, unadventurous 45 minutes and emerged unscathed against a side which they had beaten in all seven previous encounters only with the help of the goal frame.
The home side’s approach was pragmatic to say the least as they moved the ball quickly from front to back in an effort to get a front three of James McClean, Shane Long and Jonathan Walters in behind the Georgian defence.
Having seen early appeals for a penalty waved away as McClean went down under Kverkvelia’s clumsy third-minute challenge, that approach brought limited success.
But what little possession they did have in promising areas yielded little of note with the West Brom winger’s looping 13th-minute header, which was beaten away by keeper Giorgi Loria, as close as they came to troubling the visitors during the early exchanges.
Georgia were more assiduous on the ball as they gradually established a momentum, and they went perilously close to taking a 17th-minute lead when midfielder Valeri Kazaishvili span on full-back Otar Kakabadze’s cross and fired just wide.
But they were desperately unfortunate not to go ahead eight minutes before the break when Mchedlidze crashed a header against the bar from Tornike Okriashvili’s cross and Kashia looped the rebound against the inside of the far post with Ireland in disarray.
Walters lifted an effort over his head and clear of the crossbar from McClean’s knock-down seconds later, but keeper Darren Randolph had to turn away Mchedlidze’s rising 44th-minute drive as the Georgians finished the half in the ascendancy.
The Republic returned knowing they would have to be significantly better if they were to get the win they desperately needed in a group which O’Neill’s has predicted will be tight throughout, and they eventually got their noses in front with 56 minutes played.
Coleman’s determined run down the right took him past Giorgi Navalovski, but he needed deflections off both Kverkvelia and Kashia to present him with the simplest of tasks to open the scoring from inches.
McClean thought he had doubled the advantage within three minutes when he powered a header into the net from Walters’ cross, but an offside flag correctly ended his celebrations, although the West Brom man tested Loria with a long-range 66th-minute strike.
Brady’s evening ended in worrying fashion when he left the field in some distress after his 76th-minute collision with Kverkvelia, but McClean was unfortunate not to cement the win deep into seven minutes of stoppage time when his header came back off the underside of the bar.