Jon Walters scored the only goal of the game as Republic of Ireland enhanced their chances of securing at least a play-off place in Euro 2016 qualifying by beating Georgia at the Aviva Stadium.
Martin O’Neill’s side went into Tuesday’s match with the initiative in the fight for third place in Group D after beating Gibraltar 4-0 on Friday and seeing Scotland lose 1-0 to Georgia in Tbilisi.
With Scotland taking on group leaders Germany at Hampden Park, Ireland had the chance to put daylight between themselves and Gordon Strachan’s side.
But they were made to work hard by a well organised Georgia team, whose slim hopes of earning a place at the finals in France next year have now disappeared with this defeat.
Walters settled an uninspiring contest in the 69th minute with a goal from point-blank range that owed much to the creativity of midfielder Jeff Hendrick.
A second goal did not arrive despite further pressure from Ireland, but it mattered not as they easily saw the game out to go four points ahead of Scotland, who now have a mountain to climb in the final two games following a 3-2 defeat to Germany.
Poland remain two points clear of Ireland and as many behind Germany following their 8-1 hammering of Gibraltar.
Ireland started brightly and went close to opening the scoring in the seventh minute, however, Robbie Keane could only fire over the crossbar from close range following neat build-up play from Wes Hoolahan and Walters.
Georgia were soon able to establish a foothold in the game and frustrated the hosts, who did not craft another clear-cut opportunity until the 37th minute.
Seamus Coleman let fly with an effort from 20 yards out, but Georgia goalkeeper Nukri Revishvili made a fine save as he turned the ball over the bar.
O’Neill’s men were able to test Revishvili more in the second half but found the keeper in good form, Hendrick seeing his 62nd-minute deflected effort from the edge of the penalty area parried wide.
Revishvili then kept out Walters’ close-range header but the Stoke forward was not to be denied as he finally broke the deadlock thanks predominantly to some excellent play from Hendrick.
The Derby County man cleverly jinked his way from the left flank into the area before laying the ball off for Walters to prod into an empty net.
Substitute Shane Long was prevented from ending the game as a contest when he met James McClean’s low left-wing cross, only to see his goal-bound effort blocked.
McClean drew an acrobatic save from Revishvili in injury time with a long-range shot, yet one goal proved to be enough to ensure a result that gives Ireland welcome breathing space going into games with Germany and Poland next month.
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