Robbie Keane marked his record-equalling 125th appearance for the Republic of Ireland with a double to see off 10-man Georgia.
The 32-year-old climbed off the bench to draw level with keeper Shay Given, and will go top of the list if, as expected, he leads Ireland into World Cup qualifier battle with the Faroe Islands on Friday evening. Keane claimed his 55th international goal from point-blank range with 13 minutes of the game remaining and then took his tally to 56 three minutes from time to seal a comfortable victory with the Georgians labouring after keeper Giorgi Loria’s 20th-minute dismissal.
Derby defender Richard Keogh had opened the scoring three minutes before the break with his first senior international goal, and Nottingham Forest striker Simon Cox extended the home side’s lead three minutes after the restart after good work by James McClean.
Ireland started in accordingly slow fashion, but having worked their way into the game, took control early on and never looked like surrendering it.
They were aided and abetted in no small part by the premature departure of Loria, who trudged off the pitch with just 20 minutes gone after racing from his goal and upending strike Shane Long to prompt Romanian referee Sebastian Constantin Coltescu to produce an unsurprising red card.
Loria had earlier kept the visitors in it with a fine save from skipper-for-the-day Long, who showed an impressive burst of pace to leave central defender Akaki Khubutia in his wake, only to be denied by a solid block.
It was McClean who almost broke the deadlock won 23 minutes. The Sunderland winger took charge of the free-kick awarded for Loria’s misdemeanour and curled the ball towards the top corner.
However, as the Ireland fans behind the goal waited for the net to ripple, substitute keeper Omar Migineishvili threw out a hand and managed to claw his effort away.
Georgia’s resistance was finally broken three minutes before the half-time break after Khubutia was penalised for a foul on Long wide on the right side. McClean curled the resulting free-kick into the box and Keogh climbed highest to send a downward header past Migineishvili and into the net.
Manager Giovanni Trapattoni sent on Keane at the break but it was Cox who made an impact within three minutes of the restart when, having been moved to the right wing to accommodate the LA Galaxy man, he side-footed home McClean’s driven cross.
McClean, who has endured an indifferent season with the Black Cats, was a constant threat as he repeatedly ran at full-back Guram Kashia, to the extent that substitute David Targamadze was detailed to help the defender out.
But it was Wes Hoolahan, making a rare start for his country, who split the Georgian defence wide open with 58 minutes gone as he slid Long in, but the striker was once again denied, this time by Migineishvili.
Cox smashed a 64th-minute volley across the goal after controlling Wilson’s inviting cross on his chest, but the groans of disappointment turned to cheers within seconds when Richard Dunne was handed his first taste of action in almost a year after an injury nightmare.
Keane finally got in on the act with 13 minutes of the match remaining when substitute Conor Sammon’s low cross handed him a close-range tap-in, and he helped himself once again at the death when he made the most of Jeff Hendrick’s well-weighted pass with the tiring Georgians in disarray.
Republic of Ireland: Westwood, Delaney, McShane, R Keogh, Wilson (Dunne 65), A Keogh (Keane 46), McCarthy (Sammon 71), Hoolahan (Quinn 75), McClean (McGeady 65), Cox, Long (Hendrick 71).
Georgia: Loria, Lobjanidze (Targamadze 46), Khubutia, Khizanishvili, D Kvirkvelia (Popkhadze 69), Kashia, Daushvili (Dzaria 54), Kankava, Ananidze (Migineishvili 22), Kobakhidze ((Gorgiashvili 90), Gelashvili (Maisuradze 61).