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Reality bites for Rovers

SHAMROCK ROVERS travelled almost 9,000km to learn a very simple lesson -- that the gap between teams like the Dublin outfit and European aristocrats such as Rubin Kazan is unreachable.

A 4-1 loss to Rubin in far-off Tatarstan makes it five defeats from five games in the group stage of the Europa League now for the Hoops, and while we can moan about the conditions -- that biting cold -- and some odd refereeing decisions, there can be no bickering about the result as, once again, Rovers were simply beaten by a better team.

It was a truly multicultural win for Rubin's fans who enjoyed goals from a Paraguyan (two from Nelson Valdez), an Israeli (Bebras Natcho) and a Nigerian (Obafemi Martins) to put them within touching distance of the knockout phase of the competition (PAOK have already qualified and Rubin need only a point in the last game, away to the Greeks, to progress) as the Rovers squad made up of Dubs, Scots, an Englishman, a Jamaican, a Northern Irishman and a boy from Kerry struggled to keep up.

Once again, Rovers rewarded their hardy supporters who turned out in subzero temperatures - tickets cost just €3 for last night's game - as they kept up their proud record of scoring in every away game in the group stage, Ken Oman's 11th minute goal cancelling out a strike from Valdez a minute earlier before a classy Rubin side took control of the game and ran out handy winners.

As a tired Hoops squad arrived back home in Dublin at 4am today they pondered what had happened in Russia, as once again Rovers gifted their Europa League opponents goals with some basic errors.

Refereeing errors didn't help as at least one Rubin goal was offside and the ball appeared to be out of play on the way to creating Rubin's fourth goal for ex-Newcastle man Martins on 62 minutes.

But you can't escape the feeling that no matter what Rovers did, Rubin would have done more and scored more. To put things in context, this Rubin side hammered Spartak Moscow 3-0 in a league game last month, the same Spartak Moscow who had €10m spare to sign Aiden McGeady.

Tatarstan and Tallaght are different worlds indeed.

"I think we competed quite well but decisions didn't go our way and we just have to live with that," Rovers midfielder Ronan Finn admitted to the Herald after the game. "We can't be too hard on ourselves, but at this level maybe it's just not enough to just compete for parts of the game.

"It's a massive step-up from the league at home and you have to respect the opposition. They are a top-class team. Rubin seemed to be at their most dangerous when we had the ball. They know what to do, they pressurise you into making a mistake and that's what happens at this level.


"We have done well to get here and we've done ok in every game in the group stages. We've made mistakes but we have been picked off by other teams and that's the difference when you're at this standard. We have one game left now and we'd like to get something out of that but Tottenham at home won't be easy by any stretch of the imagination," added Finn, one of Rovers' key players last night who put in a performance that could make club managers in Britain or further afield take note.

Rovers have conceded early (first 12 minutes) in every game of the group stage, bar the game away to Tottenham when the Hoops took the lead, and it was the same old story last night as Valdez put Rubin ahead in the 10th minute, but Rovers did draw level a minute later when Ken Oman headed home from a Billy Dennehy free kick. However, any sense of panic from the home support disappeared into the frosty night nine minutes from half time when Natcho put Rubin back in front.

Comforted by the half-time lead, a large batch of the home fans celebrated by taking off their tops -- a truly insane act given the blood-stopping cold -- and further goals from the sublime Valdez and Martins before the 63rd minute meant the tie was over.

A draw for Malmo last night means that only Rovers and AEK Athens are without a point in the group stage now Finn admitted the side were sore after another loss.


"It's disappointing to have another defeat on the record," added Finn. "That's five losses now in the group stage. I don't think we have been outplayed massively for any of those games, no one has given us a serious lesson in any of the games as we've had chances in every match, but we have lost them.

"That's the difference in class at this level. Clubs like Kazan can force mistakes out of us and it's about us learning how to cope at this level.

"I am learning all the time and that's great but I also want to get some points on the board."