From - Our Man In Tbilisi
The nerves might well have been jangling by the end of this game but at least Wales could celebrate a precious three points in far flung Georgia courtesy of a superb goal from man of the match Tom Lawrence.
A lot has changed since Wales last played in Tbilisi some 23 years ago. Then just eleven fans managed to make the 2,300-mile trip to the Georgian capital, finding a city beset by power shortages and a 7.00 pm curfew in place due to the continuing civil unrest.
Fast forward to 2017 and Tbilisi is a modern capital city with a unique vibe that will attract ever increasing numbers of tourists as improved flight connections open this diverse architectural melting pot to the world.
Not that that would have been on the minds of Chris Coleman and his players as they attempted to register a first win over Georgia at the fifth attempt.
A 5-0 Georgi Kinkladze inspired defeat in 1994 had effectively ended Wales’s Euro 96 campaign before it started whilst a 1-1 draw in Cardiff last October has seen Wales left chasing both Serbia and the Republic of Ireland for a place in next summer’s World Cup finals in Russia.
With Gareth Bale sidelined by injury, Coleman opted to recall Sam Vokes in attack at the expense of Hal Robson-Kanu whilst Joe Ledley filled in for the Real Madrid star.
The match began in a somewhat surreal manner with the PA system cutting the Welsh anthem off at the end of the first verse, not that this troubled the 2,000 travelling fans who treated their hosts to a full rendition.
Spurred on by the Red Wall, the visitors almost took a third minute lead when Lawrence’s surging run ended with Aaron Ramsey shooting narrowly wide.
With Joe Allen and Ledley taking a firm grip of the midfield, Andy King came close to breaking the deadlock on 17 minutes forcing a fingertip save from Georgian keeper Giorgi Loria.
Sam Vokes thought he had scored on the half-hour mark when his deft flick from Ramsey’s superb cross drifted inches wide of the far post. The Burnley striker then turned provider cushioning Allen’s pass into the path of Lawrence who blazed over from the edge of the box.
Seconds later and a break down the right wing saw Giorgi Navalovski centre for Giorgi Kvilitaia but the Rapid Vienna striker headed past Wayne Hennessey’s right-hand upright.
With no changes at the interval, the second stanza sprang in to life just four minutes in when Lawrence unleashed a stunning right-foot shot from the edge of the area which flew past Loria.
The goal ignited wild celebrations on the away end with the Derby County player registering his first senior international goal in his ninth appearance.
Wales were then guilty of over-elaborating in front of goal as a series of chances came and went. That prompted the introduction of Robson-Kanu for Vokes after 74 minutes with Georgia throwing on Davit Skhirtladze and Jambul Jigauri in desperate search of an equaliser.
The leveller almost arrived on 79 minutes, when a speedy break caught out the Welsh back line and Merebashvli brought a scrambling save from Hennessey at the second attempt.
Coleman swiftly replaced the tiring Ledley with Dave Edwards as Georgia enjoyed their best spell of the match. Somehow the Welsh goal remained intact and the final whistle meant Coleman and his charges could celebrate a job well done.
Georgia: Loria, Kakabadze, Kverkvelia, Kashia, Navalovski, Kvekveskiri (Jigauriat 76), Merebashvili, Kankava, Gvilia (Khotcholava 89), Qazaishvili, Kvilitaia (Skhirtladzeat 76).
Subs: Makaridze, Lobzhanidze, Kiteishvili, Dvalishvili, Chanturia, Kvaskhvadze, Dvali, Hufnagel, Aburjania.
Wales: Hennessey, Gunter, Chester, Williams, Davies, King, Allen, Ledley (Edwards 81), Lawrence (Woodburn 90+1), Ramsey, Vokes (Robson-Kanu 74).
Subs: Ward, Maxwell, Taylor, Bradshaw, Brooks, Ampadu, Lockyer, Williams, Hedges.
Referee: Jesús Gil Manzano