Ireland’s World Cup qualification ambitions were dealt a severe blow as they failed to beat Georgia in Tbilisi's Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena.
Martin O'Neill’s side opened the scoring in the fourth minute thanks to a towering Shane Duffy header.
However, Georgia dominated the match throughout and were worthy of their equaliser, which arrived in the 34th minute as Valeri Kazaishvili restored parity for the home side.
With the game just four minutes old, Ireland couldn’t have been handed a bigger gift as Duffy’s opening goal came as a result of a calamitous misjudgement by the home goalkeeper Giorgi Makaridze.
The stand-in stopper came charging out into a sea of green as Cyrus Christie’s cross-field free-kick was lifted deep into the box, allowing Duffy to arrive in behind and head the ball into an empty net.
In the keeper’s defence, he was impeded by the arm of the arriving Ciaran Clark but Makaridze should never have attempted to retrieve the ball in the first place.
There was still 41 minutes left to play in the first half and if you were to look at the highlights reel from the opening half, it would have possibly appeared a decent performance from Ireland based on chances in the opposition half.
James McClean missed a great chance to double the lead when his downward header flew the wrong side of the post, following a fine delivery from the boot of Jonathan Walters out wide on the right.
Shane Long’s snapshot in the 31st minute flew just over the bar, while Duffy directed another header on target in the final moments of the half.
But they were mere moments of a first 45 that was totally dominated by the host side who were unwilling to dwell on that opening goal and passed the ball with pace and precision to push the Irish back to their 18-yard line.
And that is essentially where Martin O’Neill’s side remained for the duration of the half as the home side worked the ball in from both flanks and danced through the middle of the Irish set-up with dangerous deliveries peppered across the Irish danger zone.
Desperate defending kept the home side at bay for half an hour but then a similar moment of indecision from the Ireland goalkeeper set in motion a passage of play that resulted in the equalising goal.
Randolph came and failed to get any purchase on a hopeful ball into the box in the 34th minute, which perfectly highlighted the panic that had set into the Irish rearguard.
The ball was only half-cleared and was picked up by the impressive Valerian Gvilia ten yards outside the box. A quick, decisive pass to the arriving Jano Ananidze attracted several green shirts to the ball.
But some fast feet and quick thinking allowed the midfielder to slip the ball inside to the left as Valeri Kazaishvili burst through, took one touch and slid the ball home.
The home side completed over 300 passes in the first half compared to Ireland’s paltry 62 as O’Neill’s men managed a mere 24 per cent possession throughout the 45 minutes.
The second period began as the first ended with the home side playing with purpose as Ireland remained clueless and unable to string a reasonable passage of play together.
And it took 15 minutes of the second half before Ireland exerted any sort of pressure on the Georgia goal as Harry Arter’s neat effort was easily saved by Makaridze.
That signalled the end of Arter’s involvement in the game as he was replaced moments later by Tbilisi talisman Aiden McGeady.
The change from Ireland had no immediate effect, but O’Neill’s side gradually started to match the home side who were starting to tire.
And it was a McGeady charge out of his own half in the 71st minute that got this Ireland side moving again as he ran 50 yards with the ball as the Gerorgian defenders backpeddled.
That particular attack led to nothing as McGeady’s shot was blocked but 60 seconds later, Ireland were again on the attack as Brady stung the hands of the keeper with a fine effort from the edge of the box.
For the first time since the fourth minute, Georgia started to look more like their lowly world rankings as they seemed to settle for a point as the game approached the final ten minutes.
Daryl Murphy was thrown into the mix as the manager sacrificed Ireland’s other holding midfielder, Glenn Whelan, sensing that the game was now there for the taking.
But perhaps Ireland’s energies and efforts had taken their toll and their attempts to win the game came up short.
McClean had a chance in the 87th minute to seal the victory, thanks to Long’s endeavours on the left, but there was to be no repeat of his Vienna heroics as the keeper redeemed himself to a certain degree, getting out quickly to narrow the angle and block the effort.
Georgia burst into life in the final moments as substitute Giorgi Merebashvili cut in from the left and smashed a low shot wide of Randolph’s goal.
And then, of course, McGeady had a chance to once again snatch a victory for Ireland but the ball back from Duffy’s header was mis-controlled and the chance was gone.
Ireland could have had no complaints had the home side eventually picked up their first win of the campaign, but instead the points were shared and Ireland now know that victory is needed against Serbia on Tuesday.
Otherwise, the play-off route to Russia is the most likely available to O’Neill’s men. But based on tonight’s performance, that particular path could also be in jeopardy.
Ireland: Darren Randolph; Cyrus Christie, Ciaran Clark, Shane Duffy, Stephen Ward; Glenn Whelan (capt) (Daryl Murphy 79), Harry Arter (Aiden McGeady 61), James McClean, Robbie Brady, Jonathan Walters; Shane Long.
Georgia: 1 Giorgi Makaridze; 21 Otar Kakabadze, 4 Guram Kashia (capt), 5 Solomon Kverkvelia, 7 Jano Ananidze, 8 Valeri Kazaishvili (Davit Khocholava 90), 10 Nika Kvekveskiri, 13 Giorgi Kvilitaia (17 Giorgi Merebashvili 86), 15 Valerian Gvilia, 20 Jambul Jigauri (11 Giorgi Chanturia 75), 22 Giorgi Navalovski.
Referee: Ivan Kruzliak (SVK).