- Gareth Bale headed Wales into an early lead from a Joe Ledley corner kick in the 10 minute of the game
- Georgia came close to equalising but Wayne Hennessey tipped Jano Ananidze’s free-kick onto the crossbar
- Tornike Okriashvili headed the away side level as the hosts struggled to break down the Georgians
For the second time in four days Welsh hands let slip a lead and while the draw in Austria brought a sense of buoyancy the single point collected in Cardiff against Georgia is likely to leave Chris Coleman with a sinking feeling.
Before this game the Wales manager likened his career to riding a pushbike uphill rather than sipping champagne in a limousine and, though his side started with fizz, the wheels came off to change the complexion of their campaign to reach the 2018 World Cup.
The mild boos that greeted the end of this encounter, a rarity in recent times, could not have been foreseen when Gareth Bale headed in the opening goal in fine style after 10 minutes. That moved him to 25 goals in 64 caps and within three of Ian Rush’s all-time scoring record and it looked like a safe passage to victory lay ahead.
But Wales stepped off the gas to grant Georgia a way back, gratefully seized by Tornike Okriashvili 10 minutes after the break. Georgia are ranked 137th in the world – some 127 places behind Wales – but showed the farce of FIFA’s tables in their play of fine technique and deserved a rare draw on their travels.
Increased expectations coupled with the loss of Joe Allen to compound Aaron Ramsey’s absence might have given rise to tension among Wales players for this match they realistically had to win in their quest to qualify for Russia.
But if that was the case they refused to show it during the pre-game team picture, which was the most glaring example yet of an in-joke that exemplifies the levity among this group.
In quite shambolic scenes, only three players stood up with eight ducking down, the grins belying claims the haphazard photographs – a staple of Wales games these days – owe anything to accident.
It was all business once the whistle blew though, the hosts setting out with intensity and purpose. Republic of Ireland endured a frustrating opening half against Georgia in Dublin last Thursday, forced to wait until the 56th minute to break the deadlock, but Wales never looked like repeating that.
They began with pace, stringing moves together nicely, and also went directly for goal, Bale unafraid to utilise his cannonball arms again with a long throw-in as early as the fifth minute.
Welsh staff members had handily placed towels near the 18-yard line for Bale to dry the ball for maximum grip but Georgia goalkeeper Giorgi Loria was also prepared, and sped from his line eagerly to intercept in the air.
A minute later Wales carved open a chance on the ground, with Andy King bursting into space down the right and firing a low cross that Bale dived to connect with, only narrowly missing.
By the 10th minute, Wales’s pressure was rewarded. They won a corner, which Joe Ledley delivered into a dangerous area and Bale rose majestically to beat his marker Solomon Kverkvelia and head beyond Loria.
As well as closing in on Rush, the strike meant Bale had featured in 13 goals in his last 12 appearances for Wales on home soil with nine goals, and four assists.
He tested Loria with a low free-kick soon after but Georgia have their own set-piece specialist in Jano Ananidze, who in the 34th minute whipped a dead ball shot from 20 yards onto the top of the Welsh crossbar.
Wales tried to double their advantage before the break, first when James Chester and Ledley combined in delightful fashion to free King, who brought a good low save from Loria with a driven shot. Then when Bale hurled another throw onto the head of Sam Vokes, the Burnley striker nodding wide.
But any thoughts Georgia might wilt found an answer with Murtaz Daushvili’s lunging challenge on Chris Gunter. Looking like a prop forward with his barrel chest, squat stature, and rugby-style headguard, the Georgia number six got a yellow card for his reckless foul but perhaps provided a jolt to his team.
After the interval it was they who took the initiative, with Wales settling into cruise control. In the 55th minute Okriashvili struck a shot just past Wayne Hennessey’s post to send a warning that two minutes later Wales failed to heed.
Valeri Kazaishvili was afforded too much space on the left, Okriashvili too much freedom to run in behind from the right. Neil Taylor didn’t track Okriashvili so when the cross came he was unmarked to head down and in.
There was stunned silence in the Cardiff City Stadium apart from a dozen or so travelling fans situated behind the Georgia dugout.
In response Bale sent a dipping volley over, then went closer four minutes later, pinging a fierce free-kick onto the roof of the net.
Coleman decided a change of shape was required to earn back the lead, with Hal Robson-Kanu replacing King and David Cotterill coming on for Neil Taylor to switch from five defenders to four.
But the result was Wales became ragged at the back, and Georgia very nearly went 2-1 up. In the 72nd minute Okriashvili led a counter-attack, slipping a neat through ball to Levan Mchedlidze. Clear with Ashley Williams not close in pursuit, the Georgia striker dragged his finish wide.
Seven minutes later Valerian Gvilia struck a shot that went narrowly wide, then soon after Wales backed off Kazaishvili, who cut inside to let fly from the edge of the box and smack the crossbar.
By now the atmosphere inside the stadium was fraught and full of anxiety and the players could not locate the fluency needed to threaten.
Bale set off on a burst down the right only to be brashly checked by Guram Kashia. He sent the resulting free-kick into the side netting. With minutes remaining Robson-Kanu got the ball in the area but his shot on the turn was too tame and Loria collected.
The final whistle brought a smattering of boos for the first time in a long time from Welsh fans, but quickly applause took over. The players responded in kind but trudged off in the knowledge this was not the performance required and could be a very costly two points dropped.