Ireland remain top of Group D following a hectic few days in their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, and while Mick McCarthy's side dropped two points at home to Switzerland, the overall picture remains very positive for the Boys in Green in their quest to qualify for next summer's showpiece.
In truth, the ferocious fixture with the Swiss will go down as a point gained rather than two lost, considering the gulf in class throughout the first half in Dublin, and only for Ireland’s renowned fighting spirit, a defeat would have cost all three.
And if David McGoldrick’s late equaliser in Dublin gave Ireland heart to take into the final three games of the campaign, then Georgia’s scoreless draw with Denmark in Tbilisi has offered real hope of making it through to next summer’s tournament.
The task, however, remains an uphill one and Ireland will most likely have to take something from all three remaining games to keep things in their own control.
Victory away in Georgia followed by a draw or better against Switzerland and Denmark in the final group game would see Ireland get out of their group irrespective of how the other remaining games play out.
Yet McCarthy expects an even tougher test in Switzerland next month, and we are all too familiar with how tough it is to take the points in Tbilisi. So, while qualification has been boosted, there is still a lot more work to do to ensure Ireland will walk out at the Aviva next summer in the multi-city hosted event.
That work had already started in the post-match press conference on Thursday night as McCarthy pondered who to play at left-back in Georgia due to Enda Stevens' suspension, while suggesting he would have to circle the wagons for the game in Geneva.
After a well-earned day off for the team on Friday, McCarthy has enjoyed three further days with the squad ahead of this evening's friendly clash with Bulgaria in Dublin (kick-off 7.45pm).
Valuable time with the players considering the manager is still a relative new arrival and the fact that this specific campaign lasts barely eight months.
The manager has had to create an established eleven in a short time-frame, which is an achievement in itself, as McCarthy's starting XI for Switzerland picked itself.
Continuity and momentum are so important to the manager and another attribute high on the McCarthy wish-list is experience, and while there is a wealth of that in the starting XI, once the manager looks around the squad, the options are not as immediately evident.
McCarthy has just five competitive games under his belt since his return to the national side and as a result, players who he spoke about ahead of his opening encounters against Gibraltar and Georgia have yet to kick a ball in this campaign.
We need your consent to load this SoundCloud contentWe use SoundCloud to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences
Alan Browne and Callum O’Dowda are two players that McCarthy referenced last spring in relation to being in good form at their clubs, combined with an ability to score goals. And the manager needs players who can make a serious contribution over the next three games.
The midfield is crucial for McCarthy and while he backed his selection following the Switzerland performance, there is a real chance that he will have to make changes to his side in October if certain players are not getting more regular club football.
Browne and O’Dowda can bring energy into that role, while players like Harry Arter and James McCarthy, who might be back next month, can also slot in as long as they are playing regularly at club level.
Josh Cullen is another who is gradually making his way up the pecking order and his form at high-flying Charlton shows that he is now a real contender to step into that holding role at some stage.
McCarthy confirmed at the pre-match press conference that Conor Hourihane would start at left-back tonight, which could suggest that the manager will turn to the Aston Villa man to play that role in Georgia in the absence of Stevens.
You get the impression that Hourihane is the type of player that McCarthy wants in his side, but perhaps if game-time at Villa is an issue, it may be easier to slot him into the team at left-full.
The midfield options are concerning but probably not causing too much anxiety for the manager, however, McCarthy knows that he needs goals over the course of the three games and will turn to James Collins and Scott Hogan tonight to see if they can build on McGoldrick’s strike from the Switzerland game.
Bulgaria are perhaps the perfect opponent for a team looking to maintain momentum ahead of the two October qualifiers.
An international team with a strong tradition but currently going through a terrible run of games come to Dublin straight off the back of a 4-0 defeat at Wembley Stadium.
Krasimir Balakov’s side are bottom of their group with no wins from five outings and have nothing to really play for, so Ireland have a chance to add to their confidence with a victory.
McCarthy will generally want to maintain a core group of those who played on Thursday night, but he has admitted that he is ready to rotate and, with nothing at stake, the manager will be keen to curry favour with the clubs by resting as many as possible.
Mark Travers is expected to play and in Keiren Westwood’s absence, it gives the young Bournemouth goalkeeper a chance to stake a real claim for the number two jersey for the remainder of the campaign.
Other players that can expect to see action on the pitch tonight include John Egan, whose form for Sheffield United means that he is surely next in line for a central spot should Shane Duffy or Richard Keogh pick up an injury or suspension.
Shamrock Rovers’ Jack Byrne is another who will get a chance to show the manager what he can do in an international game, having impressed while playing for the Hoops and within the training camp.
McCarthy was smart enough to play down what he thinks Byrne could add to the squad and no doubt, the former Manchester City starlet was picked specifically with this match in mind.
McCarthy has a band of 14 or 15 trusted men in mind for the coming three games, which will make or break his second stint as Ireland boss.
The door is open for one or two more to put themselves in the mix for next month’s double header, but tonight’s game is the last-chance saloon and players like Byrne will know that they only have one shot at success.
Follow Republic of Ireland v Bulgaria via our live blog on RTÉ.ie/sport and the News Now app, watch on RTÉ2 or listen to live radio commentary on RTÉ 2fm's Game On