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Hoops hand POAK points

MAYBE it was an act of solidarity to our hard-pressed Greek cousins, but Shamrock Rovers meekly handed over three Europa League points to PAOK Salonika in Dublin last night as the Tallaght-based club once again were the creators of their own misfortune.

Rovers are now one of just three clubs who are without a point in the Europa League -- AEK Athens and Malmo are the other empty-handed teams -- after going down 3-1 at home to PAOK in front of 6,100 fans, a fourth successive Group A defeat.

Once again, there were positives for the home club as they managed to score another goal, through Billy Dennehy's 51st-minute free-kick, and their impressive second-half display gave the score some respectability, but games are won over 90 minutes, not 45, and a tired-looking Rovers side were very much off the pace in the first half.

In fact, the biggest plus of the night was that Rovers were not beaten by a more emphatic scoreline, as a half-time tactical switch by Michael O'Neill, when the home side were 3-0 down, helped them stem the tide of Greek goals and prevented a rout when one looked on the cards.

"We gave it to them, with the way we played," says Rovers defender Pat Sullivan. "We had worked all week on how we were going to play, we had worked on our formation and stopping their play, because we know that at times their movement is far beyond anything we are able to play.

"But we were gifting them space and gifting them goals. At times like that you think that we need to just go out and play our own game and not worry so much about them, and we did that in the second half.

"It wasn't pretty but it was effective, it got us into the game, we play in a league where the football isn't always pretty so maybe we need to stick to what we know.

"This is the level we are playing at now. We can play well for a big part of the game but still lose 3-1 at home, that's the standard of the Europa League group stage.

"There have been times when we have done ourselves justice in the group stage, the second half last night, 25 minutes in the second half away to Tottenham, but then we let ourselves down in the other periods of the game."


Rovers had the worst possible start to their first home game in the group phase when they were a goal down within 90 seconds against Rubin Kazan, and it had been drilled into the Rovers players how they simply had to avoid the concession of another early goal at home to PAOK.

That went out the window after only seven minutes when Dimitris Salpingidis kept up his impressive record of scoring European goals -- 28 strikes now -- by putting PAOK in front with a well-struck effort.

The bearded Greek star, who thankfully shortens his name to Salpi for the back of his jersey, had a hand in PAOK's second, profiting from Conor McCormack's slip as the ball went to Giorgios Fotakis, who made it 2-0 on 35 minutes.

Rovers were rent asunder again three minutes later when the sublime Salpingidis scored his second and PAOK's third from Giorgios Georgiadis's cross, which left Rovers keeper Ryan Thompson unprotected.

There were genuine fears that Rovers could have had more misery inflicted on them in the second half, but Hoops boss Michael O'Neill reacted by putting on two strikers -- Ciaran Kilduff and Gary Twigg -- in place of midfielders McCormack and Gary McCabe.

And Rovers had more shape and menace about them in the second half, as shown by Dennehy's goal on 51 minutes.

Kilduff's presence unsettled PAOK at times, while Karl Sheppard, after a quiet first 45 minutes, also started to get into the game.

But even when Rovers looked like they could mount a threat, PAOK's excellent defenders -- take a bow Stelios Malezas -- dealt with the home side.

For Rovers, it was their 56th game of the season and it showed.

"A huge chunk of us have played in a lot of those games," added Sullivan, who was making his 48th appearance of the season last night.

"It felt like time was standing still for me in the second half, there were times when I got forward but it took me an age to get back.

"That's a positive from our season, the fact that we've had so many games is a sign of our success but you could see the gap last night.

"I think PAOK were playing their 15th game of the season and we had our 56th, so we were tired."