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Rangers 2-0 Ross County: Steven Gerrard’s side stay top of the Scottish Premiership

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rangers 2 0 ross county steven gerrards side stay top of the scottish premiership

Steven Gerrard’s warning had been clear. Amid the dressing-room celebrations that followed last Thursday evening’s win over Galatasaray, the Rangers manager bluntly emphasised the over-riding priority for this season.

Europa League qualification was worthy and valuable, for sure. But domestic trophy success come May was what truly mattered. There could be no excuse for bumping back to earth in the Premiership. Games such as this one simply had to be won. By whatever means necessary.

It was achieved thanks in no small part to the reliability of captain James Tavernier. One of those setting standards in this campaign, the right-back’s first-half penalty made it eight goals in his last eight games – four of them from the spot.

James Tavernier's first-half penalty set Rangers on their way to victory against Ross County

James Tavernier’s first-half penalty set Rangers on their way to victory against Ross County

Steven Gerrard's side stay ahead of Celtic, though his team have played a game more

Steven Gerrard’s side stay ahead of Celtic, though his team have played a game more 

That provided a platform to lift Rangers back to the top of the Premiership, a point clear of Celtic having played a game more. The challenge set down by the identical scoreline at McDiarmid Park was ultimately answered. And, just like their title rivals, this was a victory claimed while some way short of peak form.

Grinding these games out might be an essential facet of any successful championship challenge, but that doesn’t mean Gerrard would have enjoyed the tension felt as the minutes ticked down.

Chances to wrap it up sooner had been wasted – with Alfredo Morelos culpable – meaning an almighty sigh of relief was breathed when Coll Donaldson headed a golden 80th minute opportunity for County too high.

It was substitute Brandon Barker who finally made safe a fourth straight win for the Ibrox men. A fine 88th minute effort marked his 24th birthday and was just a second goal for Rangers since joining from Manchester City last season.

The international break now intervenes before that eagerly awaited first Old Firm game of the season at Parkhead on October 17. Slipping up beforehand would have been a significant psychological blow, so there will be some satisfaction for the Ibrox side in simply ticking this one off.

County showed determination and organisation but now have just one win in their last eight outings. While he couldn’t complain about the outcome on the balance of play, Stuart Kettlewell can only wonder how Rangers might have reacted had Donaldson – penalised earlier for the spot-kick -managed to hit the target.

Changes were inevitable in Gerrard’s line-up were inevitable after the effort invested against Galatasaray. He made four of them.

Allan McGregor, Filip Helander, Steven Davis and Ianis Hagi all dropped out of the starting line-up, with Jon McLaughlin, Leon Balogun, Ryan Jack and Jordan Jones drafted in.

Brandon Barker's 88th minute goal sealed the victory at Ibrox on Sunday afternoon

Brandon Barker’s 88th minute goal sealed the victory at Ibrox on Sunday afternoon

Jack had been introduced as a late substitute in midweek after recovering from a calf injury, but displayed a tinge of rust when robbed of possession in the second minute.

County sprang forward, with Ross Stewart feeding it wide right to wing-back Regan Charles-Cook. His fizzed, low cross was enticing, but no visiting player was able to able to take up the offer as it sped through McLaughlin’s line of vision.

Charles-Cook was one of three players introduced by Kettlewell in response to a 3-0 defeat from Aberdeen seven days previously. They were also housed in a revised tactical shape featuring three centre-backs.

Kettlewell was perched in the stand as he began a three-match touchline ban for comments made about referee John Beaton in a reverse against Livingston, leaving coach Richie Brittain to patrol the technical area in his place.

Brittain’s early words were of optimistic encouragement. County navigated the first 17 minutes without only a deflected Borna Barisic free-kick to spark any concern. They looked composed. Rangers were struggling to find fluency, but received the lift the needed to dispel early frustration.

Rangers forward Alfredo Morelos jumps over County's Alex Iacovitti during Sunday's contest

Rangers forward Alfredo Morelos jumps over County’s Alex Iacovitti during Sunday’s contest

It again came from the penalty spot as Tavernier continued his flawless sequence from 12 yards, beating Ross Laidlaw with a strike down the middle.

The Ibrox captain had been heavily involved in bringing about the award in the first place. It was his dinked cross that set Morelos running – and prompted Donaldson to bring the striker toppling to the ground. Referee Greg Aitken was swift in his call, Tavernier unerring in maximising it.

That breakthrough settled Rangers, even if clear opportunities remained relatively limited. Callum Morris became the game’s first booking when halting Ryan Kent with an unruly challenge, before Morelos showed power and tenacity to escape a couple of markers and fire straight at Laidlaw.

Connor Goldson then headed narrowly over from a Barisic corner, with Kent no less unfortunate when an intelligent, curling attempt from the fringe of the area was deflected fractionally wide.

At the other end, Stewart still looked a potential handful for the Ibrox centre-backs when County could get him involved. That, though, was problematic. The visitors ended the opening period having failed to ask a meaningful question of the recalled McLaughlin.

Tavernier celebrates after scoring the first goal of the game in the 17th minute at Ibrox

Tavernier celebrates after scoring the first goal of the game in the 17th minute at Ibrox

That challenge didn’t become any easer once the second half dawned. Rangers penned the visitors deep into their own territory as in pursuit of a second goal. It would have arrived within six minutes of the restart but for a brilliant piece of defending by Donaldson.

Tavernier was once more supplier of the threat, picking out Morelos with a low cross. The Colombian striker took a touch to swivel and was about to pull the trigger when Donaldson slid in with an outstanding block.

Morelos would get a clear strike at goal on 57 minutes. But completely failed to make the most of it.

Released by Glen Kamara’s smart through-ball, the 24-year-old fired too high from the angle of the six-yard box. In between those moments, Laidlaw made a fine stop to deny Balogun’s forceful attempt to covert Kent’s corner.

There was a blow for Rangers after the hour mark. Hurt in a collision with Charles-Cook that required a period of treatment, Barisic was eventually replaced by Calvin Bassey. Jack also made for Hagi as Gerrard sought an additional killer touch of creativity.

Barker's late goal meant County left Ibrox empty-handed and remain on 11 points

Barker’s late goal meant County left Ibrox empty-handed and remain on 11 points 

The points were not yet safe. Having clung on in there, County knew they just needed one moment to have a chance of regaining parity.

It almost arrived when Ross Draper robbed Kent to advance on the right. His pass inside for Stewart was a little over-cooked, however, and the striker’s touch was poor.

Another, even better, chance would be spurned with ten minutes remaining when Donaldson couldn’t keep down his header from Josh Reid’s delivery.

Barker made County pay. Latching onto a lofted through-ball from fellow sub Hagi, he drifted away from two defenders before firing a shot into the net.s

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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Lille 2 Celtic 2: Elyounoussi inspires Hoops to hard-fought point as Lille battle back from two goals down

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lille 2 celtic 2 elyounoussi inspires hoops to hard fought point as lille battle back from two goals down

MOHAMED ELYOUNOUSSI netted a brilliant double as Lille battled back from two goals down against Celtic.

The odds were firmly stacked against the Scottish champions getting any kind of result against big-spending opponents Lille following a dire week.

Celtic blew a two-goal lead away to Lille

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Celtic blew a two-goal lead away to LilleCredit: Reuters
Mo Elyounoussi thought he would be the hero for Celtic

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Mo Elyounoussi thought he would be the hero for CelticCredit: Reuters

The Hoops could have walked away from the Stade Pierre Mauroy with all three points after storming into a sensational 2-0 first-half lead.

But the hosts managed to turn the game on its head with a magnificent second-half comeback in France.

Celtic can be proud of their performance against a team joint top of Ligue 1 with PSG but will be disappointed not to have held on to a famous victory.

Under-fire boss Neil Lennon made just one change to his team from the weekend’s goal fest at Pittodrie – with skipper Scott Brown replacing Tom Rogic in the engine room.

Scott Bain kept his place between the sticks and the Scotland squad man repaid Lennon’s faith in him with a brilliant penalty save to deny £27million striker Jonathan David his first goal for Lille.

Lille rested Turkish striker Burak Yilmaz and Portugal midfielder Renato Sanches as the French side made five changes from Sunday’s stalemate with Nice.

Celtic – who looked far more organised with four at the back – started positively with some early possession.

Ryan Christie flashed a free-kick from a dangerous area well wide inside five minutes.

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The hosts then started to find their feet in the game as Bain pulled off a fine one-handed save to prevent Boubakary Soumare breaking the deadlock.

Swiss hitman Albian Ajeti had the ball in the net for Celtic just before the 20 minute mark but he strayed offside from Elyounoussi’s pass.

Ajeti vented his frustrations minutes later as he blazed a guilt-edged opportunity over the bar from just seven yards out after yet more clever play from Elyounoussi.

Elyounoussi was at the heart of every attack for the visitors – and soon opened the scoring with a moment of brilliance.

The Norway international glided inside from the left before curling an exquisite effort beyond rooted keeper Mike Maignan.

It was no more than Celtic deserved – and five minutes later the on-loan Southampton star found the net again.

Jeremie Frimpong drilled a low cross into the box and Elyounoussi kept his composure to finish first-time into the far corner.

As half-time neared, Lille were handed a controversial penalty after a clumsy tackle from Duffy on David, which appeared to be outside the box.

Scott Bain was the penalty hero for the Hoops

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Scott Bain was the penalty hero for the HoopsCredit: AP:Associated Press
Celtic were 2-0 up at half-time and looking on course for the win

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Celtic were 2-0 up at half-time and looking on course for the winCredit: AFP
Albian Ajeti missed a series of chances for the Scottish champions

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Albian Ajeti missed a series of chances for the Scottish championsCredit: AFP or licensors

Canadian hitman David stepped up hoping to break his goal duck, but his strike down the middle was blocked by the feet of Bain.

It was a huge relief for Irish stopper Duffy, who has looked out of sorts in a green and white jersey.

Bain could have went from hero to zero moments later though after spilling a Lille free-kick.

The ball fell to Sven Botman but the Dutch defender crashed his shot off the crossbar in a huge slice of luck for Bain.

Celtic would have been relieved to have heard the half-time whistle as they went into the break with a two goal advantage.

However, they suffered a setback early in the second-half after Kris Ajer was forced off injured.

Kris Ajer was forced off injured early in the second-half

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Kris Ajer was forced off injured early in the second-halfCredit: Reuters
Lille fought back from two goals down to claim a point

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Lille fought back from two goals down to claim a pointCredit: AP:Associated Press

The centre-back looked in real discomfort as he clutched his groin and was replaced by versatile Israeli Nir Bitton on 53 minutes.

Celtic had to cope with an onslaught as Lille piled on the pressure.

Lennon’s side were pinned inside their own half for large spells as they struggled to get a grip of the game.

Lille threw on star duo Yilmaz and Sanches as they chased a crucial goal, with penalty sinner David making way.

Odsonne Edouard replaced Ajeti as the French hitman made his comeback from Covid-19.

Lille celebrate after clawing back from two behind

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Lille celebrate after clawing back from two behindCredit: Icon Sport – Getty

But Celts soon caved in to Lille’s relentless pressure through Zeki Celik.

Christie lost the Turkish right-back at the back post as he stabbed the ball home from a corner on the 67th minute to reduce the deficit.

Celtic were hanging on by a thread and looked vulnerable following the loss of Ajer.

An equaliser was always coming – and it arrived through Jonathan Ikone.

The French forward scrambled the ball home following a stramash in the box as his strike deflected off Duffy and past Bain to get back on level terms.

It was backs against the wall for Celtic and a defeat would have been so cruel given their gallant efforts.

There were a couple of nervy moments as the clock ticked down.

But Lennon’s energy-sapped team eventually managed to see the game through to earn a valuable point against unbeaten Lille.

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Former Celtic defender Charlie Mulgrew takes a starring role in Olivia Meets Her Match

This post first appeared on thesun.co.uk

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Anthony Joshua could give up WBO belt as he eyes Tyson Fury showdown with mandatory Oleksandr Usyk impatient for shot

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ANTHONY JOSHUA could drop his WBO belt to secure a Tyson Fury double and keep Oleksandr Usyk at arm’s length.

AJ, 31, holds the WBA, IBF and WBO belts, and hopes to snatch Fury’s WBC crown next year to become undisputed champion.

Triple belt-holder Anthony Joshua's overwhelming priority is to hold all the heavyweight crowns at the same time

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Triple belt-holder Anthony Joshua’s overwhelming priority is to hold all the heavyweight crowns at the same timeCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Tyson Fury is set for two all-British super-fights wth Anthony Joshua

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Tyson Fury is set for two all-British super-fights wth Anthony JoshuaCredit: News Group Newspapers Ltd

But Ukraine star Usyk is the WBO’s mandatory challenger and if he beats Derek Chisora tomorrow he insists he will not sit around waiting.

So Eddie Hearn, who promotes Joshua AND Usyk, has a plan — but it would mean only the first fight would be for all the titles.

He said: “I would be willing to say, subject to speaking to Anthony and Fury, that we would be willing to vacate the WBO title straight after their first fight, to let Usyk fight for it.

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“Because we’re going to do two fights, we’re tied up for 2021, so we can only fight Usyk if we don’t make the Fury fight.

“I only want AJ to win the undisputed title. I’m not bothered about him defending it for the next ten years.

“I just want to be able to say: ‘You’re the undisputed heavyweight world champion, you won everything’.

“After that, if we can set up a fight between Usyk and whoever’s No 2 with the WBO, we’ll do that.”

AJ won his WBA mandatory defence against Alexander Povetkin in 2018. His bout with Kubrat Pulev on December 12 has been ordered by the IBF, so the WBO and Usyk are next in line.

And Hearn admits the undisputed cruiserweight king and the WBO will  take some convincing to step aside.

Oleksandr Usyk is the WBO’s mandatory challenger and if he beats Derek Chisora will want a shot at Anthony Joshua

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Oleksandr Usyk is the WBO’s mandatory challenger and if he beats Derek Chisora will want a shot at Anthony JoshuaCredit: ©Mark Robinson Ltd

He said: “Usyk and his team have got to do their job and push for it.

“I’ve got to do my job and be honest with everyone.

“I think everybody feels that even an undisputed fight may not trump that mandatory.

“The fact is the IBF are now first chronologically and then the WBO.

“So if Joshua beats Pulev and we make Fury against AJ, we would write to the WBO and say: ‘Do you want to do the fight with Tyson Fury against Anthony Joshua’ and they will either say: ‘Yes we’ll approve it’. Or, ‘no, Usyk is mandatory’.

“If it’s the latter, we go to Usyk and say: ‘Do you want to allow this fight’ and he says: ‘Yes but what are you going to give me?’ Or ‘no’. Then you deal with it from there.

“AJ wants to be undisputed. If we had to fight Fury with a belt missing, we’d do it. But the whole aim has always been the undisputed title.

“Once he wins it, I’m OK if we have to go into the second fight with one missing.”

David Haye says Derek Chisora is set to become WBO mandatory and fight Anthony Joshua if he beats Oleksandr Usyk

This post first appeared on thesun.co.uk

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Arsenal 3-0 Dundalk LIVE RESULT: Pepe, Nketiah and Willock down brave Irish champs in Europa League

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arsenal 3 0 dundalk live result pepe nketiah and willock down brave irish champs in europa league
BLOG Arsenal v Dundalk 3 0

ARSENAL downed Dundalk with three goals in the space of four minutes.

The Irish side impressed at the Emirates, restricting the Gunners to very few chances until Eddie Nketiah took advantage of a goalkeeping error to open the scoring after 42 minutes.

Joe Willock then added the second two minutes later before Nicolas Pepe rounded off the win a minute after the half time break.

This post first appeared on thesun.co.uk

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