Seamus Coleman’s first international goal gave the Republic of Ireland a narrow victory over Georgia in their 2018 World Cup qualifier in Dublin.
Coleman, 27, made a strong run down the right, cut into the box and slotted home after the ball ricocheted into his path thanks to two fortunate rebounds.
It was a victory which the Irish barely deserved from a match which produced little creativity and goalmouth action.
The Irish, Wales, Austria and Serbia all have four points from two matches.
Austria and Wales drew 2-2 in Vienna and Serbia won 3-0 away to Moldova in Thursday’s other two Group D encounters.
The Aviva Stadium crowd may have expected a more convincing display from their side in their first competitive home game since reaching the last 16 of Euro 2016 but in the end will be grateful to have overcome a stubborn Georgian side to secure a third win in their last 10 matches.
Closely contested group
Group D promises to be among the most competitive of the European series, with Wales, Austria, the Irish and the Serbs all appearing to be evenly matched.
For O’Neill’s men, this match and Sunday’s game with Moldova represent a pivotal few days in their quest to reach the finals in Russia, with anything less than six points being regarded as a huge blow to their qualification hopes.
With only the group winners guaranteed an automatic place in the finals, the chance to pick up maximum points against the two perceived weakest teams in the group is crucial to Ireland’s ambitions of qualifying for a first World Cup finals since 2002.
The Republic had won all of their previous seven contests with the Georgians, six of them in competitive fixtures, including two one-goal victories in the qualifiers for Euro 2016.
Jon Walters scored the only goal of the game when the sides last met in Dublin in September 2015.
O’Neill agreement boosts Republic
The game was the Republic’s first since O’Neill signed a deal to continue as manager until the end of the present campaign.
A 2-2 draw in Belgrade last month had got the Republic off to an acceptable start but Daryl Murphy, the man whose late goal earned them a draw on that occasion, was among eight players who were ruled out of this encounter through injury.
Goalkeeper Kieren Westwood, Harry Arter, Stephen Quinn, Kevin Doyle, Aiden McGeady, Anthony Pilkington and Marc Wilson were also absent.
Everton midfielder James McCarthy was passed fit to play for the first time in more than six weeks after recovering from groin surgery.
Georgia on top in the first 45
Georgia, who had lost 2-1 at home to Austria in their opening group game, posed the greater threat in a largely uninspiring first half as a disjointed performance by the hosts saw their attacking intentions restricted to an ambitious overhead kick from Walters which flew over the bar.
Valeri Qazaishvilli turned and fired a left-foot shot wide of the post in the 17th minute and then the visitors struck the woodwork twice in quick succession with eight minutes of the half remaining.
Levan Mchedlidze thundered a header off the crossbar and when the home side failed to clear, the ball fell to Guram Kashia, whose looping header back over Randolph bounced off the bar.
Irish shade second half
The Irish showed greater intensity after the resumption and Coleman’s strike gave them the boost they needed but scarcely deserved on the balance of play.
James McClean saw his headed effort into the net chalked off for offside and his innocuous looking right-foot shot was collected by Giorgi Loria after the goalkeeper initially parried.
The lively West Brom winger then saw his headed effort cannon off the underside of the bar during a lengthy spell of injury-time caused by a head injury to Robbie Brady, who was forced to retire hurt after receiving treatment following a clash of heads.
His side’s failure to finish clinically should see boss O’Neill step up his attempts to persuade Brentford striker Scott Hogan, who has scored seven goals for the Championship club this season, to declare for the Republic.
The Salford-born forward qualifies for Ireland by virtue of three Irish grandparents.
Man of the Match – Seamus Coleman
The new Republic of Ireland skipper provided the crucial moment of inspiration which culminated in him breaking the deadlock in a largely forgettable game.
Coleman, who will celebrate his 28th birthday on Tuesday, was winning his 40th cap.
The Republic travel to Chisnau to face Moldova in three days’ time, followed by another away day against Austria in Vienna in November. Wales are at home to Georgia on Sunday, while Serbia host the Austrians.
Burnley’s Jeff Hendrick will miss the trip to Moldova after picking up his second yellow card of the campaign, while Brady looks likely to add to O’Neill’s injury worries after picking up his nasty looking head injury late in the game.
Match ends, Republic of Ireland 1, Georgia 0.
Second Half ends, Republic of Ireland 1, Georgia 0.
Foul by Guram Kashia (Georgia).
Shane Duffy (Republic of Ireland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt saved. Tornike Okriashvili (Georgia) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top centre of the goal.
Substitution, Republic of Ireland. John O’Shea replaces Shane Long.
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Substitution, Georgia. Nika Kacharava replaces Murtaz Daushvili.
Delay in match Shane Long (Republic of Ireland) because of an injury.
James McClean (Republic of Ireland) hits the bar with a header from the centre of the box. Assisted by Jonathan Walters with a cross.
Substitution, Georgia. Aleksandr Kobakhidze replaces Giorgi Navalovski.
Foul by Davit Skhirtladze (Georgia).
Stephen Ward (Republic of Ireland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Levan Mchedlidze (Georgia) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Levan Mchedlidze (Georgia).
Ciaran Clark (Republic of Ireland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Jeff Hendrick (Republic of Ireland) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Giorgi Navalovski (Georgia) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Jeff Hendrick (Republic of Ireland).
Foul by Guram Kashia (Georgia).
Shane Long (Republic of Ireland) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Substitution, Republic of Ireland. Glenn Whelan replaces Robbie Brady because of an injury.
Delay in match Robbie Brady (Republic of Ireland) because of an injury.
Attempt missed. Robbie Brady (Republic of Ireland) header from very close range is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Shane Long with a headed pass.
Substitution, Georgia. Davit Skhirtladze replaces Jano Ananidze.
Attempt missed. Levan Mchedlidze (Georgia) left footed shot from the left side of the box is high and wide to the left. Assisted by Giorgi Navalovski.
Attempt missed. James McClean (Republic of Ireland) left footed shot from outside the box is too high. Assisted by James McCarthy.
Offside, Republic of Ireland. Ciaran Clark tries a through ball, but Shane Long is caught offside.
Attempt blocked. Valerian Gvilia (Georgia) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Attempt saved. James McClean (Republic of Ireland) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Stephen Ward.
Corner, Georgia. Conceded by James McCarthy.
Attempt blocked. Valerian Gvilia (Georgia) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Giorgi Navalovski.
Corner, Georgia. Conceded by Jeff Hendrick.
Offside, Republic of Ireland. Jonathan Walters tries a through ball, but James McClean is caught offside.
Otar Kakabadze (Georgia) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by James McClean (Republic of Ireland).
Attempt saved. Shane Long (Republic of Ireland) with an attempt from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by James McClean with a cross.
Hand ball by Levan Mchedlidze (Georgia).
Goal! Republic of Ireland 1, Georgia 0. Seamus Coleman (Republic of Ireland) right footed shot from very close range to the centre of the goal.
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/37424268