Sives admits Hoops out of their depth against elite European sides
REACHING the Europa League group stages was a historic achievement for Shamrock Rovers, but defender Craig Sives acknowledges that the reality of playing at such a high level can be a humbling experience.
The Scot cut an exasperated figure at times on Thursday night as he and his defensive colleagues struggled to deal with the movement of striker Dimitris Salpigidis -- who scored twice for PAOK Salonika -- while the team as a whole found it difficult to keep the ball in the face of the Greeks' high pressing game.
The Hoops were drawn in a tough Group A and have conceded 11 goals in four games. It has been a reality check for a team who aspire towards big things.
"At the end of the day they are better players than us. What can you do?," the former Hearts centre-half said. "PAOK are a top team; we're all part-time players, and that was some of the boys' 40th game of the season.
"It's tough going, you don't like to make excuses but these teams like them, Rubin Kazan and Tottenham, they're on a different level to us. We're just trying to compete as best we can.
"The speed with which they broke with on the counter attack and the pressing they did -- that's what teams at this level do and it's unfortunate.
"They were so high up and we gave them a wee bit too much respect, we were just sitting off them and letting them pass it about but the times that we did get tight, they were just flicking balls around the corner.
"They were just too quick for us. These are learning curves for us all. I'll learn from playing against these top players and take that into domestic football. It will make us better players."
The home game against the Greeks had been seen as Rovers' best chance of picking up a lucrative result, but Sives does not think that talk of a soft touch was realistic.
"We're not expected to win," he said. "Everyone was going on about that game being the one where we could pick up points, but anyone who watched them out there would know how tough it was going to be.
"We gifted them easy goals and that's been a problem throughout the competition."
The Hoops players have been given time off now to relax at the end of a gruelling season. They are unlikely to dwell on Thursday, with too many good memories to edge out the rare bad nights.
"Its a well-deserved break. What we have done this season has been fantastic so we can't get too down about it at all. We just have to enjoy these occasions and get better for the next one," Sives said.