Ireland could well look back on their 0-0 draw in Georgia with huge regret.
A win would have seen them within a single victory of qualification for Euro 2020, but they failed to perform in a game which was uninspiring for the neutral.
Now, instead of returning back to Britain with their tails wagging and confidence high, they will be spending Denmark’s clash with Switzerland nervously biting their fingernails.
As McCarthy and co. return home disappointed, we look at the winners and losers from the poor display in Tsibili.
Winner: Shane Duffy
In a defensive display which will have satisfied Mick McCarthy (Georgia didn’t manage a shot on target all game), it was the Brighton centre-half Duffy who was particularly impressive.
Despite his and Lewis Dunk’s partnership becoming well-established last season, Duffy has found himself behind Dan Burn and Adam Webster in the pecking order following the arrival of Graham Potter.
However, one would never guess that he had been struggling for game-time this term.
Georgia generally had the better of the game, dominating possession, but simply couldn’t find a way to break down the stubborn Irish defence, spearheaded by Duffy. He even nearly won it at the end.
Calm on the ball and tenacious off it, Graham Potter will have been delighted with his veteran centre-half’s display.
Loser: Jano Ananidze
Ireland were strong defensively but Georgia did nowhere near enough to test McCarthy’s side in a game which they really had to win to keep their hopes alive.
Ananidze was the man given the responsibility for attacking creativity on Saturday but was almost totally anonymous for the entire game.
His set-pieces were consistently dealt with by Duffy and co. and he found himself spending the majority of the game drifting between the lines without the ball to no avail.
His parent club Spartak Moscow sent him out on loan to PFC Krylia Sovetov Samara this season – after this display, it’s easy to see why.
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Loser: James McClean
McClean was a shadow of the fast, direct winger that many still view him to be.
It wasn’t until the last 10 minutes that the Irish really tested Loria in the Georgian goal – going forward, they weren’t much better than the hosts. McClean often epitomised this.
He worked diligently up and down the flank but failed to produce any quality in the final third as those around him began to grow visibly frustrated by his repeated wastage of possession. Conor Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick, both of whom were solid throughout, were particularly aggrieved.
No one can doubt McClean’s passion and hunger for the game, but today’s performance certainly brought his ability into question.
Winner: Group D
Had Ireland managed to win this one, they would have needed just two more points to secure qualification for Euro 2020. Denmark and Switzerland face off on Saturday afternoon and Ireland’s failure to win leaves the group wide open.
The two sides will both have high hopes of qualifying and both sides’ qualification are now in their own hands.
Gibraltar and Georgia are now both more or less out of the running but the race for the top two in the group is well and truly alive following today’s result. The clash in Copenhagen later in the day could prove pivotal.
Loser: Mick McCarthy
McCarthy was the man who led Ireland in their dramatic World Cup campaign in 2002.
Fast forward 17 years, it is McCarthy again who has the chance to take Ireland onto the big stage. However, today was a wasted opportunity.
Given that they must face Denmark and Switzerland in their final two games, today represented a huge opportunity for them to take some pressure of those fixtures – as stated, a win would have left them only needing two points from those games.
However, they were lacklustre against an average Georgian side and will be ruing the fact that they were unable to capitalise on this opportunity.
They still hold the key to their qualification, but things could have been so much easier.