THE Greeks, as a nation, are pretty angry and upset right now.
The only thing that could make the Greeks, especially those who live here in Thessalonika – the nation's second city – and support PAOK more annoyed is the dropping of points in the Europa League to Shamrock Rovers tonight (8.05pm).
But that's very much the aim for the Dublin club in Greece. Things have bottomed out in the local economy here. This proud nation is reduced to the status of a basket case and is again an exporter of her young people, pride battered by the economic woes.
And pride is very much the aim for a Shamrock Rovers side who are thriving domestically and are within one game of retaining their league title. So far, it's a case of two games and two defeats in the group stages. Some clubs have gone through an entire group phase without earning a single point – clubs bigger and richer than Shamrock Rovers FC, but the Hoops' Scottish striker says he's come to Greece with the twin aims of picking up the club's first point in Europe and also scoring his first European goal.
“We want to get that first point on the board, that's the aim,” Twigg told the Herald yesterday in the team's hotel near the centre of this port city.
“We didn't come into this competition to make up the numbers. We worked very hard to get here and it would be hard to take if we'd put in so much work to get here and not get any points on the board.
“In one way, just being in the group stages is great. It's an honour to be the first Irish club in the group stages, but to have six defeats in six games at the end of it would be disappointing, hard to take.
“We are all used to winning things at Shamrock Rovers so we're desperate to get at least a point from tonight,” added Twigg.
The Scot – who could have played for the Republic via an Irish grandparent and was scouted out by Brian Kerr as a |teenager – has established himself as one of the leading strikers in the |country since his arrival in Ireland in 2009, but he's drawn a blank in Europe: 12 games in UEFA competition and zero goals.
“People keep mentioning the fact that I haven't scored yet in Europe for Rovers but it honestly doesn't bother me, it doesn't play on my mind,” he stresses.
“Once I feel I have done my bit for the team, I am happy. It's hard work when you play as
a lone striker but I think I have contributed. If I wasn't playing well or contributing to the team in the European games it would be different but I know I have done my fair share.
“As a striker you want to score goals and I would love to get one tonight. I've drawn a blank a few times in Europe so Greece would be a nice place to end that run.
“And a goal from us could change the game tonight. If we score early then it could really upset PAOK's plans and see their fans get on the team's back. We've scored in Belgrade and away to Tottenham so we know we can get goals away from home.”
Michael O'Neill has used the same formation in all the European games this season – a five-man midfield with Twigg as the lone striker.
“It's hard work and it's lonely at times,” Twigg admits. “But the formation suits us because I have runners appearing for me and making themselves available all the time.
“I think the game in Belgrade was the toughest. I did so much running there |I was very tired after it, but I'd prefer to be out there on the pitch and working my socks off instead of sitting on the bench and watching someone else do it all.”
So what to expect from PAOK? An impregnable fortress packed out with 20,000 passionate home fans, or a place where Rovers can pick away at the home side until they get something?
“Our coach, Andy Myler, was out here to see PAOK play last week and he's told us that it will be an intimidating place to play, but it's something we will thrive on and enjoy, not fear. You don't get opportunities like this too often in your career – a competitive European tie away to a good Greek team so you have to enjoy them when they come along.
“The fact that we scored away to Tottenham gives us hope. Of course, that game didn't work out ideally for us as we only held the lead for 10 minutes, but the fact we can score away gives us great confidence.”