Gibraltar in narrow defeat against Georgia after showing they can threaten when given offensive options
Photo by Christian Correa / C Correa Photography
Gibraltar came close to providing a surprise against Georgia as they placed the group leaders, Georgia, on the backfoot during the latter part of their encounter at the Victoria Stadium, as they sought for the equaliser in the final twenty minutes.
An aggressive, offensive end to their Nations League C campaign seemed to provide further ammunition for critics of the defensive posture Gibraltar head coach had opted for during the campaign which now left Gibraltar facing a play-out to survive in League C or drop back to League D. Gibraltar only having scored twice prior to Monday’s match whilst conceding 16 whilst fielding a defensive team.
Following Friday’s defeat at the hands of Bulgaria fans and critics had called for Gibraltar to field a less defensive team, especially after eight defenders had finished the match on Friday for Gibraltar.
The calls seemed to fall on deaf ears as Julio Ribas opted once again to focus on defence fielding a total of seven defenders in the first eleven.
A choice that left many questioning the Gibraltar Head coach’s decision once again.
With some players known to regularly play in defence for their clubs were playing through midfield, Gibraltar presented a packed defensive line which saw them once again playing deep and with few attacking options.
As was the case with players such as Louie Annesley playing in a midfield role in front of central defenders, this proved a difficult task for players not accustomed to play in a more advanced role as they were being asked to do when Gibraltar stepped forward. The players wondering into defensive positions and at times seeing a packed defensive line which at times proved vulnerable when overloaded with players. Something Georgia exposed well in the second half as they doubled their lead following a first half penalty goal which had seen them leading since the 17th minute.
The lone figure of Lee Casciaro was not enough of an offensive option for Gibraltar, who had not shied away from testing Georgia during the first half. Liam Walker, although providing an assured game in midfield, alongside Torrilla, found themselves alone among a defensive team that seemed planned only to find Lee Casciaro as their advancing option, with no real incentive to provide the space to distribute through midfield, or keep control of possession.
With only one main attacking player and a reduced midfield, Gibraltar’s attacking options were limited. Although the presence of Ethan Britto, Jayce Olivero and Scott Wiseman who are known for their surging runs down the wings from defence, could be described as an attacking option, Gibraltar once again lacked an offensive edge during the better part of the match, giving the visitors far greater incentive to take control of the match than merited.
Georgia after dominating the better part of possession, although conceding numerous corners and free kicks to Gibraltar in the first half, boosted their position with a 47th minute goal that will leave Gibraltar’s selectors wondering about the value of having the packed defence.
What should have been a solid wall literally gave way leaving an open path through the middle when tested with a single-man surging run straight through the middle. Three ‘central’ defenders giving way as the vulnerabilities of playing players of a similar role to double up in position proved to be one of Gibraltar’s weaknesses.
Although facing a two goal deficit, the turning point in the match came after Gibraltar had been forced into changes which saw Gibraltar’s positioning change towards a more offensive nature. The changes coming after close to an hour of play and as tired legs seemed to also creep in.
The presence of Styche Reece upfront, with Lee Casciaro dropping back and pressing behind him unsettled the visitors opening the way for Gibraltar to create their own chances.
After putting Georgia to the test a freekick floated into the area and ending at the back post saw Louie Annesley pop up behind the defence to score only for the linesman to signal offside.
There was an eerie silence as the referee first disallowed the goal but waited for a decision from VAR. What seemed as one of the longest waits for Gibraltar ended in celebrations as Gibraltar were awarded the goal and Annesley celebrated his first international goal, even though struggling to play in the unusual role given.
With the crowd already having seen their spirits lifted as Gibraltar fought back, as further changes came on to give Gibraltar greater offensive options the match seemed to change altogether with Georgia struggling to get out of their half. Gibraltar looking far from the vulnerable defensive side which had been seen earlier.
Long throw-ins into the penalty area, which had been Scott Wiseman’s trademark before he limped off after a surging run, were taken over by Joseph Chipolina causing further problems for Georgia’s defence.
One of this throw-ins saw Walker strike from the edge of the box and forcing a great stop from the Georgian keeper.
The defensive posture of Gibraltar tossed to one side as the match reached its layer part, saw the home side gain the support of what had been a silent crowd except for the praiseworthy efforts of Team 54 who had kept their vociferous support going from the start. With Gibraltar’s west stand now cheering for once Gibraltar kept prodding at Georgia’s defence once again highlighting how Gibraltar could challenge at this level. At one point even seeing keeper Bradley Banda risk going forward in the final seconds to try and assist with a freekick.
Gibraltar was unable to make the dramatic comeback which would have provided them with a further consolation point in their nations League campaign and probably a massive celebrations.
The second half performance, after introducing offensive options provided for what seemed for the first time in the Nations League campaign for optimism among Gibraltar’s followers which were translated into cheers and chants. Also providing for further reasons to question the seven-man defensive selection which limited Gibraltar offensively.
Although narrowly defeated Gibraltar fans greeted the final whistle with cheers for their team as the latter were praised for their efforts in trying to make a dramatic comeback.
Gibraltar will next face the play-outs which will determine which two teams will be relegated from League C.
The must-win match is likely to see further questions over Gibraltar’s recent choice of playing with six or seven defenders in the line-up from the start. Observers pointing out that with just draw from six matches questions over the defensive nature of the line-ups should now be addressed as Gibraltar will need to win their next match to stay in League C.
Photo by Christian Correa / C Correa Photography