Conor Hourihane’s first senior international goal handed the Republic of Ireland a deserved Euro 2020 qualifier victory over Georgia as Mick McCarthy was treated to the perfect homecoming.
Ireland, who had scraped their way to a 1-0 win over Group D minnows Gibraltar on Saturday evening, were more than value for the points as they won by the same score at the Aviva Stadium with the Georgians rarely looking like ending their wait for a win over the Irish at the 10th attempt.
Hourihane’s 39th-minute free-kick ultimately settled the game, although goalkeeper Darren Randolph had to make a good reaction save to deny Valerian Gvilia an equaliser and Jaba Kankava hit the post five minutes from time.
However, anything less than victory would have been harsh on the hosts, who rose to the occasion and turned in a stirring display which could and probably should have resulted in a much more convincing scoreline.
McCarthy had urged fans in advance to back the team as they had done during his first reign as manager rather than carry out planned protests against outgoing Football Association of Ireland chief executive John Delaney following the announcement that he is to take up the newly-created post of executive vice-president.
In the early stages, they managed to do both as anti-Delaney chants were punctuated at regular intervals by the roars which greeted a positive start from Ireland.
Where they had been ponderous in their efforts to break down a determined, but limited Gibraltar side on Saturday evening, they managed to carve their way through a potentially far more potent Georgia outfit with apparent ease.
David McGoldrick had already won an early corner when Robbie Brady scuffed a seventh-minute shot wide and after Seamus Coleman had overhit a cross, Hourihane burst through to force a good save from Giorgi Loria with a well-struck drive.
McGoldrick sent a dipping volley just wide and then flicked a header across goal from James McClean’s cross as the Republic took the game to Vladimir Weiss’ men.
They finally got their reward nine minutes before the break, but not before sections of the home fans had taken their protests a step further.
Georgia defender Guram Kashia was booked for a cynical 33rd-minute challenge on McGoldrick as he threatened to run through on goal and while Dutch referee Serdar Gozubuyuk dealt with the situation, dozens of tennis balls were hurled on to the pitch from the stands.
However, the mood inside the stadium took a turn for the better from the resulting free-kick when, after a substantial delay, Hourihane bent his shot around the wall and inside the far post to open the scoring.
If the goal served to settle any remaining nerves for Ireland, it prompted something of a fightback by the visitors, who very nearly dragged themselves back into the contest deep into first-half stoppage time.
Otar Kiteishvili did well to head the ball down for Gvilia inside the penalty area and his first-time shot was brilliantly saved by Darren Randolph, who had previously had little to occupy him.
Ireland thought they had increased their lead with 58 minutes played when Hendrick, who scored the only goal in Gibraltar, stabbed home from Enda Stevens’ cross after Brady had picked out the full-back in acres of space, although an offside flag correctly halted the celebrations.
McGoldrick blazed high and wide from distance as Ireland continued to threaten, and the Sheffield United striker was convinced he should have been awarded a penalty after neatly turning Solomon Kverkvelia on the edge of the penalty area and then going to ground.
For all their dominance, the Republic could not kill the game and Georgia continued to strive in the search for a way back into it with Kankava and Kiteishvili going close in quick succession.
Kankava then rattled an upright at the end as the visitors belatedly threw everything they had at Ireland – ultimately to no avail.