Georgia vs Republic of IrelandEuro 2020, KO: 14:00 Oct 12, 2019, Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena
THE old adage “never go back” was the view of plenty of fans and pundits alike when Mick McCarthy returned to the Republic of Ireland hot seat, however, less than one year later McCarthy and Ireland are eyeing a one-way ticket to Euro 2020.
McCarthy mark 2 sees Ireland unbeaten in five competitive matches and in doing so the Irish currently lead the way in Group D, however, both Denmark and Switzerland are hot on their heels.
With the Danes and the Swiss set to square off this weekend something has to give – and that presents Ireland with a big opportunity to cement their place at the summit of the section when they travel to Tbilisi for a tussle with Georgia.
Remarkably, these two familiar foes will lock horns for the seventh time in six years on Saturday afternoon – with Ireland boasting five wins and a draw from that stretch of previous showdowns.
In the most recent meeting McCarthy marked his homecoming by squeezing out a 1-0 success – a result that came either side of a narrow 1-0 win over Gibraltar and a priceless 1-1 draw away at Denmark on matchday three.
Another three points were put on the board when minnows Gibraltar visited the Aviva in June before the Green Army pinched a late point at the same venue against Switzerland during the last round of international fixtures.
Consequently, the Irish top the section ahead of what is gearing up to be a grandstand finish to Group D as Ireland get set for a double header with Georgia and Switzerland before bringing the curtain down on their campaign in the Irish capital against Denmark next month.
The first of those three aforementioned fixtures will come against a gutsy Georgia outfit who themselves are targeting a place at next Summer's finals – albeit through the back door of the Nations League play-offs.
Despite being ranked 91st in the Fifa World Rankings, Vladimir Weiss' side are so often a tough nut to crack and demonstrated just that when they held Denmark to a drab 0-0 draw in Tbilisi last month.
What's more, Ireland will be fully aware of just how awkward an assignment this will be following a number of closely-fought contests between these two nations during recent qualifying campaigns.
A home win and a first defeat for McCarthy in his second reign would put a massive dent in Irish dreams of appearing at Euro 2020 and that outcome is currently best priced at 13/5 (Bet 365)
In the reverse fixture I successfully tipped Ireland to win 1-0 and I wouldn't be surprised to see a similar story unfold on Saturday afternoon – a repeat of that scoreline is possible and is priced at 21/4 (SportingBet)
Only a fantastic Conor Hourihane free-kick separated the sides last spring and after he crashed one in from long range at Carrow Road last weekend during Aston Villa's a 5-1 thumping of Norwich I suspect it may take something similar to light up what could be an edgy encounter in Eastern Europe.
Hourihane has an eye for goal and regularly delivers the spectacular from distance and with that in mind, I like the look of the 10/11 (William Hill) on offer for Hourihane to have at least one shot on target.
In continuing to focus on individual midfield men I'm also attracted to the 13/8 (Betway) on offer for Georgia skipper Jaba Kankava to be carded.
Kankava tends to be deployed in the holding role and in his 83 appearances for his country he has collected 31 cards – a return that means he has been booked on average every 2.6 caps.
Domestically, the ageing anchorman has been cautioned 9 times in 24 appearances this term for his club side Tobol Kostanay and I suspect his name could be taken again when attempting to shackle a superior Irish outfit.
Indeed, the Georgians will be compact and resolute and they will no doubt make life difficult for Ireland and that coupled with the visitors lack of cutting edge points towards a low scoring affair in Tbilisi.
Furthermore, the last four meetings between these two countries has seen under 2.5 goals scored – which perhaps explains why a repeat here is as short as 2/5 with most bookies.
As such a thriller is unlikely and another cagey affair could be in store, however, Georgia have never beaten Ireland and I fancy that statistic to remain intact this weekend.
Although McCarthy has brought the feel-good factor back to Irish football , scoring goals remains a significant problem for his team – which is why I'm not tempted enough tip Ireland to win outright.
However, an alternative angle to consider in siding with the Irish could be to combine Ireland on the double chance in a game that sees under 2.5 goals scored at 8/11 (Bet 365) – a combination that would have generated profit in all five of Ireland's Group D outings thus far.
This Euro 2020 match between Georgia and Republic of Ireland will be played on Oct 12, 2019 and kick off at 14:00