LILLE 2 CELTIC 2
CELTIC saw a two-goal lead obliterated as they had to accept a draw after a feverish French fightback from Lille this evening.
Neil Lennon’s men looked good for their first win in four games with two superb first-half strikes from Mohamed Elyounoussi who put in a good claim along with Callum McGregor for the Hoops’ Man of the Match.
But they were caught in the second period after some lackadaisical defending that must be eradicated if the champions are to sample success in this monumental season.
The first 45 minutes throbbed and pulsated with action as the Hoops went in two goals to the good while Scott Bain saved a penalty-kick as the French tried desperately to claw back something before the interval.
The Hoops signalled their intentions as early as the third minute when Ryan Christie had a go with a 30-yard free-kick after Elyounoussi had been flattened. Unfortunately, the playmaker’s ambition was quite in sync with his precision and his effort swept tamely wide of Mike Maignan’s left-hand post.
A 16th-minute left-wing corner-kick created some consternation in the Celtic penalty area with the ball bouncing around crazily before Boubakary Soumre fired in a low drive that was pushed away by the sprawling Bain to his left.
Seven minutes later, the visitors had the ball in the net, but Albian Ajeti was ruled just offside as he raced onto a through pass from Elyounoussi and buried the ball behind the exposed keeper. The Swiss raider had gone just a shade too early and was a yad off when he collected the ball, but it was still a warning sign for the home team who hadn’t lost at home since February.
In the 25th minute, Ajeti had a better opportunity to break the deadlock, but blew the chance after some excellent leading-up play from Diego Laxalt and Elyounoussi. The Norwegian international sent in an exquisite low pass from the left that picked out the unmarked Ajeti, but he hurried his final effort and waywardly thumped the ball off target from eight yards.
Celtic were having a good period with a lot of swift, intricate play and there was no surprise when they took the lead in the 28th minute.
Ajeti set up Elyounoussi on the left with a neat backheel and his team-mate took off in the general direction of the danger area. Olivier Ntcham offered support, but the on-loan Southampton forward elected to go on his own.
From 25 yards, he took aim and arced a magnificent drive high past the motionless Maignan high into his top left-hand corner of the net.
Precisely four minutes and 28 seconds later, Elyounoussi struck again for another magnificent effort that once more shredded the French rearguard.
Ajeti picked out Jeremie Frimpong on the right and the raiding Dutch teenager switched it inside for Elyounoussi. There was no hesitation as he struck a 10-yard first-time drive low past the helpless netminder at his right-hand upright.
In the 40th minute a rash challenge from Shane Duffy just inside the box on Jonathan David brought a penalty-kick for the hosts.
However, the Irishman’s blushes were saved when Bain, facing his third spot-kick in two games, managed to beat away David’s effort. The keeper dived left, but managed to thrust out a foot as the £30million Canadian’s effort headed for the middle of the goal.
The keeper then came so close to presenting a goal to the French just before the interval when he fumbled a high ball into the area. It dropped for the surprised Sven Botman who clipped the bar with his drive from just outside the box. It was a left-off for the keeper and the visitors.
In the 53rd minute, Kristoffer Ajer went down with an injury before he limped off to be replaced by Nir Bitton and 11 minutes later Odsonne Edouard came on for Ajeti who had put in a good shift
However, Lille pulled one back in the 67th minute when the Hoops defence once again failed to deal with a set-piece. Yazici’s left-wing effort took a nick at the near post and went all the way to the far side where Christoe completely switched off and allowed Zeki Celik to steal in behind him.
The right-back slammed the ball goalwards and Bain made a valiant attempt at his near post to save, but the ball eluded him and the French fightback was on.
Eight minutes later, it was all-square and again the Hoops rearguard was found guilty of switching off when danger threatened. This time it was skipper Scott Brown was slow to react and Jonathan Ikome was allowed the opportunity to send a first-time snap shot past the exposed Bain.
That signalled the charge from the French aces to go for a third against a tiring Celtic side that was defending far too deep.
In the 82nd minute, Lennon made wholesale changes as he sent on Ismaila Soro, Tom Rogic and Brian Welsh for Brown, Christie and Ntcham.
Five minutes were added on, but Celtic were resolute in the dying moments and refused to surrender a third goal to take a well-earned point. But they know it should have been more.
Now it’s all eyes on Hampden for Sunday’s delayed Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen at Hampden.
TEAM: Bain; Frimpong, Duffy, Ajer (sub: Bitton 53), Laxalt; Brown (sub: Soro 82), Ntcham (sub: Welsh 82), Christie (sub: Rogic 82), McGregor; Ajeti (sub: Edouard 64), Elyounoussi.