SPARTA PRAGUE 4 CELTIC 1
CELTIC’S x-certificate tale of woe continued in the Czech capital as they flopped to a third defeat in the Europa League.
An average Sparta Prague team somehow managed to stage a repeat of their 4-1 win in Glasgow three weeks ago to send Neil Lennon’s men hurtling towards Euro oblivion.
It was another bewilderingly-inept performance from the Hoops who would have looked at their two games against opponents as six potential points. Instead, they have collapsed to an embarrassing, utterly humiliating 8-2 deficit over the ties.
Into the bargain, they have now conceded a ridiculous TWENTY-ONE goals in nine games while winning just two matches in that unacceptable sequence.
Questions will continue to be asked of everyone at Parkhead until this remarkable dip in form is arrested.
UNDER PRESSURE…Neil Lennon’s dismal run continues in Prague.
Odsonne Edouard gave the Hoops the perfect start with an excellent opening goal in the 15th minute, but some appalling defensive work allowed the Czechs back into the game and they netted twice to go in at the interval 2-1 ahead.
Witnessing a dreadful display such as this, it is easy to see why the team are shipping goals at an alarming rate.
The four goals for the home side were gifts and, in fact, they should have claimed another in first-half stoppage-time when Ladislav Krejci somehow contrived to miss with a header smack in front of goal following a free-kick. It looked a goal all the way as he merely had to knock the ball beyond the rooted Scott Bain, but his effort smacked off the post and was cleared.
Lennon made the changes to add stability to defence with Christopher Jullien returning after his 14-game absence with a back problem while Hatem Abd Elhamed came in for Jeremie Frimpong who toiled in the 2-2 draw with Hibs at the weekend.
But the rocky defence was rattled any time the ball dropped into the box and they were punished for two moments of hesitancy in the opening 45 minutes.
UP IN THE AIR…Callum McGregor and Celtic’s Euro hopes.
And yet it could have been so much different. The Parkhead men started brightly enough and there was a scare for the Czechs in the seventh minute when keeper Florien Nita miskicked while challenged by Edouard before the ball was scrambled for a corner-kick.
However, the Frenchman had better luck in the 15th minute with a goal that must have had Lennon purring on the touchline. Jullien won a high cross to knock the ball onto Diego Laxalt who pushed it in front of Mohamed Elyounoussi.
The Norwegian international split the home rearguard with a perfectly-weighted pass and Edouard raced onto it. He came in from the left and feinted to go inside onto his right, weaved to his left and then drilled a low shot wide of the despairing shotstopper into the net off the inside of the far post.
Only six minutes later, there were alarm bells when some sloppy play from Scott Brown allowed Lukas Julis, who netted a hat-trick in Glasgow three weeks ago, to thump in a low shot, but Bain gathered at his left.
However, the keeper was picking the ball out of the net in the 27th minute after being exposed by some atrocious defending from the men in front of him.
Jullien half-cleared a left-wing corner-kick, it broke to a Sparta player who forced it forward and three Czech players were played onside by Callum McGregor. David Hancko slammed a six-yard effort away from Bain.
Celtic did have the opportunity to go ahead again in the 34th minute, but Olivier Ntcham was wayward with a first-time effort that flew yards wide. He should have hit the target at the very least.
Four minutes later, some terrible lack of cohesion in the visitors’ defence gifted the Czechs a second goal. Kristoffer Ajer, who contributed very little all night, didn’t cut out a pass at the near post and Bain and Jullien switched off to allow Julis to nick in and turn the ball home from close range.
Three minutes after the restart, Nita made a fine save low down at his right-hand post to push away a 25-yard free-kick from Edouard as Celtic tried desperately to force a quick equaliser.
BLUNDER BHOY…Hatem Abd Elhamed caught out at the third goal.
In the 64th minute, Edouard had an astonishing miss in front of goal after Ntcham had found him with a neat cutback from the left. The striker was unguarded eight yards from goal, but sent a powderpuff effort into the grateful arms of the keeper. It was an atrocious miss.
Lennon made an attacking change in the 66th minute when he threw on Tom Rogic for skipper Brown, but it made little difference.
In the 80th minute, the home side netted a third goal only 24 SECONDS after Christie had fluffed a free-kick and follow-up on the right. Elhamed failed to cut out a through ball, David-Moberg Karlsson ran unchallenged into the box before picking out Julis at the back post and he rolled the ball under Bain.
Edouard limped off to be replaced by Patryk Klimala eight minutes from time, but the Pole barely got a touch of the ball.
A night to forget and a Europa League campaign to wipe from the memory banks was complete when some more suicidal defending allowed Srdan Playsic to race clear and stick the ball into the empty net.
Worryingly, this Celtic team are getting used to losing.
TEAM: Bain; Elhamed, Ajer, Jullien, Laxalt; Brown (sub: Rogic 66), McGregor; Ntcham, Christie, Elyounoussi; Edouard (sub: Klimala 82).