Rovers plot some Greece lightning

Aidan Fitzmaurice

AIRPORT CLOSURES, transport strikes and queues at border control made it very difficult for Shamrock Rovers supporters to reach the city of Thessalonika in time for tomorrow's Europa League clash with PAOK.

For the Rovers players, getting here was a breeze -- just six hours after the squad left Dublin airport early yesterday morning, they were already in situ in the old port city, famous for the trading, spying and warring that's gone on here for centuries.

Getting here was the easy bit for Rovers as their departure from Dublin yesterday meant that they missed the ravages of the massive public sector strike here, starting at midnight, which has crippled this bankrupt nation and left some Rovers fans trekking their way by coach across the roads of Bulgaria to get here in time for kick-off.

It's coming off the field with a positive result that's the hard bit for Michael O'Neill's squad.

Yet Scottish-born defender Jim Paterson -- who at 32 is one of the oldest players in the squad while also a rookie when it comes to European football -- feels that the Hoops can come away from Greece with something tomorrow night.

"I think it's within us to get a result as we have learned as we've gone along in this competition," Paterson told the Herald as he prepared with his team-mates for that big test in Salonica tomorrow.

"But this is a step up again from what we've had so far. Rubin Kazan was tough for our first game but at least we had home advantage. For the second game we were away to Spurs and at least the boys were familiar with what to expect from them, and London was an easy place to get to.

"But PAOK is a completely different proposition, it will be very tough," added Paterson, who has an insight into Greek football from his brief spell as a trialist out here last year.

"I was at Kavala for a few days to see if we could do a deal and see what the club was like.

"I was speaking to people at the club and they told me back then that the PAOK fans were famous for the atmosphere they make, so tomorrow will be intimidating for us.

"But it's a challenge and in football you have to relish challenges and take them on, not fear them."

Paterson began his career with Dundee United and later played for Motherwell and Plymouth Argyle before the move to Dublin.

He was signed by Rovers boss O'Neill from Plymouth Argyle in August after the Hoops secured a place in the group stages, and was a surprise inclusion in the starting XI for Rovers for their second game in this competition, away to Tottenham last month. The 32-year-old delivered a solid display at White Hart Lane before injury forced him to withdraw.

"On a personal level it was great to play away to Spurs," said Paterson. "When I came over here first it was all about getting games under my belt and I'd only played three games for Rovers before the manager put me in against Spurs, so that was great for me.

"I think we did well against Spurs in London and we did well at home to Rubin Kazan.

"Apart from conceding a poor goal early on against Rubin, we had a couple of chances after that and were in the game.

"Tottenham came back from a goal down to beat us 3-1 but I think we'll be better for those experiences."

Strange that it's only now, at 32, that Paterson is playing in Europe for the first time.

"Yeah, a European debutant at 32," he jokes. "I just never had the chance before.

"It's been a great experience to play teams like Rubin Kazan and Spurs, and now PAOK will be another big test for us.

"I just hope I can play in the game tomorrow. There is real pressure for places, especially at the back when you have people like Enda Stevens and Ken Oman in the frame now."

Rovers will train at the match stadium tonight and O'Neill will spend tomorrow pondering his team selection, with players like Karl Sheppard having made a big impression in recent games.