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Rangers beat Celtic to take charge of title race

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Rangers beat bitter rivals Celtic 2-1 in the Old Firm derby at Celtic Park on Sunday as Steven Gerrard‘s side now have the chance to jump ahead of their Glasgow rivals and move to the top of the Scottish Premiership.

Rangers took the lead in the first half after Alan McGregor saved a penalty kick from Ryan Christie as Ryan Kent then made it 1-0 three minutes later, but Odsonne Edouard equalized for Celtic just before the break in a typically tight, feisty encounter.

Nikola Katic scored the winner for Rangers who had top goalscorer Alfredo Morales sent off late on, as Gerrard and his players celebrated wildly at the final whistle.

After losing the Scottish League Cup final in extra time to 10-man Celtic earlier this month after missing a penalty kick, this victory would have tasted sweet for Gerrard and Co.

Celtic have won the Scottish title for the last eight seasons on the trot but they are now two points ahead of Rangers but the latter have a game in hand.

Could this be the year Rangers finally break Celtic’s stranglehold on the Scottish title? The ‘Gers last won the title in 2011 and since then they’ve been relegated to the fourth tier, promoted back to the top-flight and now they seem to be serious contenders for Celtic.

With both teams in the knockout round of the UEFA Europa League in the second half of this season it will be intriguing to see who handles the domestic and European games better.

Live, Europa League: Wolves, Celtic, Rangers all in action

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round has arrived and it is crunch time for three British teams hoping to reach the group stage of the competition.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

Wolverhampton Wanderers have negotiated the second and third qualifying rounds to reach this stage, as the Premier League side have made light work of Crusaders and Pyunik but Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men now have a really tough challenge. They play Serie A side Torino in Turin on Thursday in the first leg, and after Wolves drew against Man United on Monday they’ve had little time to rest.

Scottish giants Glasgow Celtic and Rangers are also in action, with Neil Lennon’s Celtic disappointed to crash out of the Champions League in the qualifying rounds as they now have to dust themselves off and get past Swedish side AIK.

Steven Gerrard and Rangers have had to battle through three rounds of qualifying to get to this stage and they head to Legia Warsaw knowing they will be up against it. The Polish giants finished second in their top-flight last season and Rangers will be relying heavily on top goalscorer Alfredo Morales to come up with the goods once again.

Feyenoord host Hapoel Beer-Sheva, Daniel Sturridge‘s Trabzonspor head to AEK Athens and Northern Irish side Linfield host Qarabag in some of the other intriguing clashes, as the first legs are set to be tight and tense with group stage qualification on the line.

Click on the link above to follow all of the action live, while below is the schedule for the Europa League playoff games on Thursday. We will have you covered on Wolves’ European adventure here on Pro Soccer Talk with reaction and analysis.

Thursday’s Europa League playoff round first legs

Astana 3-0 BATE Borisov
Avan Academy v. Dudelange — 11 a.m. ET
FK Suduva v. Ferencvaros — 1 p.m. ET
Malmo v. Bnei Yehuda — 1 p.m. ET
Feyenoord v. Hapoel Beer-Sheva — 1:30 p.m. ET
Ludogorets v. Maribor — 1:30 p.m. ET
Copenhagen v. Riga — 1:45 p.m. ET

AEK Athens v. Trabzonspor — 2 p.m. ET
Legia Warsaw v. Rangers — 2 p.m. ET
FCSB v. Vitoria — 2:30 p.m. ET
Gent v. Rijeka — 2:30 p.m. ET
PSV Eindhoven v. Apollon Limassol — 2:30 p.m. ET
Strasbourg v. Eintracht Frankfurt — 2:30 p.m. ET
AZ Alkmaar v. Antwerp — 2:30 p.m. ET
Celtic v. AIK — 2:45 p.m. ET
Linfield v. Qarabag — 2:45 p.m. ET
Braga v. Spartak Moscow — 2:45 p.m. ET
Espanyol v. Zorya — 3 p.m. ET
Torino v. Wolves — 3 p.m. ET
Partizan v. Molde — 3 p.m. ET
Slovan Bratislava v. PAOK — 3 p.m. ET

Glasgow Celtic to consider standing areas inside stadium

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It won’t exactly be the terraces of the 1970s and 80s but Glasgow Celtic nevertheless thinks it’s time to consider the introduction of safe standing areas inside Celtic Park.

Standing areas introduced to the Bundesliga have proven “extremely safe” and incredibly popular, prompting Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell to consider their incorporation.

“Some systems that are now deployed in Germany and other countries… it’s time to give them a try,” said Lawwell.

“We feel there is a new vibrancy in football that has come from Europe and is now in the UK,” said Lawwell. “It’s an energy and youthfulness and the safest way of being able to manage that is through safe standing.”

One of the biggest considerations for Celtic in implementing safe standing is the opinion of fan group ‘The Green Brigade’, with whom the club reached an agreement in April over a number of safety issues, including “lateral movement.”

“We recognize that they bring an awful lot to the game, to the event here. But there are certain aspects of the behavior that we would deem not safe.” Such behavior includes body surfing, damaging seats and lighting pyrotechnics. Lawwell believes that setting up safe standing sections, however, would “be the ultimate solution for that.”

The idea of incorporating safe standing into Celtic Park is guaranteed to divide opinion.

On one hand, most die-hard football fans will welcome it with open arms, recognizing that standing shoulder-to-shoulder with your fellow supporters promotes unity, song, tifo displays and an unparalleled atmosphere. Vibrant Bundesliga stadiums like Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park and Schalke 04’s Gelsenkirchen stadium are a testament to this notion.

On the other hand, however, some people will fear that by allowing supporters to stand they’ll be more likely to engage in dangerous activity and overcrowding, leading to security concerns. They’ll also note that stadiums like Celtic Park already possess tremendous atmospheres and to allow standing could come as a threat to the improved safety measures that have been put in place since the Hillsborough disaster of 1989.

The process for implementing safe standing would require the club to go to the safety committee at Glasgow City Council, who provide approval following consultations with police, ambulance, fire service and building control. Celtic will then apply for a “policy review” to allow the section to be approved.

Arsenal handed tough draw in Champions League play-off round

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This was not the draw Arsenal would have been hoping for.

Arsene Wenger’s men were dealt the toughest draw possible, as they will play a home and away series against Turkish giants Fenerbache to try and seal a spot in the UEFA Champions League group stages.

Arsenal were seeded for the draw and could’ve faced PSV Eindhoven, Metalist Kharkiv, Real Sociedad or Paços de Ferreira instead. Safe to say, they drew the short straw.

Of course, Arsenal will be the favorites for the tie to be played on August 20/21 and August 27/28, but you can’t underestimate how huge this play-off round is. Making the UCL group stages generates roughly $45-50 million for each club. That financial windfall could fund the deal to bring Luis Suárez to the Emirates… oh yeah, about that.

Well, Suárez wants a move to Arsenal to play Champions League soccer but he may want to wait until Arsenal negotiate this tricky task at the end of August. Only then will he possibly sign on for the Gunners. So this draw has thrown a few spanners in the works for Arsenal.

(MORE: Fenerbache and Besiktas given European bans)

And here’s another one. Their opponents Fenerbache were found guilty of match-fixing and banned form European soccer competitions for two years. But they appealed the ban and were reinstated until a decision is made by the European Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)… that hearing is set to come on August 28… which means Fenerbache could be knocked out of the competition or may have reached the UCL group stages by that time. What a mess.

If Arsenal lose and Fenerbache’s appeal is rejected, do Arsenal go through to the group stages regardless? Let me dig through the rule book and get back to you on this one. UEFA said this on the matter: “the participation of Fenerbahçe SK in the competition is subject to pending disciplinary and CAS proceedings.”

Elsewhere, the rest of the Champions League play-off draw went relatively smoothly and some intriguing ties will take place to see who’ll join Europe’s elite club competition this season.

The UK’s other entrant at this stage, Glasgow Celtic, face a trip to Kazakhstan to play Shakhter Karaganda. While PSV Eindhoven square off with Italian giants AC Milan. La Liga outfit Real Sociedad face French powerhouses Lyon and plenty of other top games will play out in the final round of qualifying.

Here’s the draw in full: Dinamo Zagreb v FK Austria Vienna, Ludogorets v Basle, Plzen v Maribor, Shakhter Karaganda v Celtic, Steaua Bucuresti v Legia Warsaw, Lyon v Real Sociedad, Schalke 04 v FC Metalist Kharkiv, Pacos Ferreira v Zenit St Petersburg, PSV v AC Milan, Fenerbahce v Arsenal

Could a non-league side be Glasgow Celtic’s ticket into England?

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According to Kevin McKenna of The Observer, Glasgow Celtic have a “foothold” in England by virtue of a small Carlisle based club called Celtic Nation, in division one of the Northern League, the eighth tier of English football.

The story goes as follows.

Celtic Nation was the brainchild of Frank Lynch, a 73 year old Glaswegian millionaire and die-hard Celtic fan. Lynch, who lives in the United States, was seeking a small and unknown English club to establish a club with a Celtic identity that would encourage people of Scottish and Irish heritage to support.

Lynch’s connection to the club began on a chance encounter when Lynch stopped his car in north-west England to help supporters of “Gilford Park”, whose bus had broken down. The supporters convinced Lynch to check out the club and he fell in love.

Within a year Lynch put his stamp on the side, changing its name to Celtic Nation. He also adopted Glasgow Celtic’s famous green and white hoops, created a club crest that is similar to that of the Scottish giants, and improved the quality on the pitch to help propel them through the feeder divisions of the English Football League.

A “source” close to Lynch set forth the club’s aspirations: “All the significant people associated with this project are committed supporters of Celtic FC. We have all become deeply frustrated that Celtic will never develop its full potential in Scotland, where the game is dying. Celtic Nation will take the best attributes of Celtic FC and bring them into English football. Our location will be important for attracting support from Scots, Irish and English fans who have an affinity for Celtic.”

For McKenna, these facts mean that Glasgow Celtic now has a foothold (or as he calls it “a Trojan horse in green-and-white hoops”) in English football that could come in handy when and if the Scottish club decide to secure entry to the English Football League system.

There is, of course, one big problem with McKenna’s assertion that the non-league side could be the Scottish giants secret ticket into England: Celtic Nation still has no official connection with Glasgow Celtic.

Just goes to show you – if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, there’s still a chance it ain’t a duck.