Celtic’s Europa League campaign was ended in the Czech Republic tonight as they slipped to a 4-1 defeat against Sparta Prague. Neil Lennon’s side needed a win to keep their Group H hopes alive, but a uninspiring performance resulted in yet another worrying result for the Glasgow side.
Christopher Jullien was back in the starting line-up for a Celtic side who knew nothing less than victory would suffice, and they started as well as they could have hoped.
Odsonne Edouard latched onto a Mohamed Elyounoussi pass, and the Frenchman duly turned a Sparta Prague defender inside out before firing a left footed effort into the far corner of Florin Nita’s goal.
If this was a dream start to the match for Celtic, everything that happened afterwards would certainly be deemed a nightmare.
Their lead lasted just twelve minutes, and it was Callum McGregor’s failure to step up after a corner which played David Hancko onside; the defender proceeded to fire powerfully past Scott Bain.
Sparta took the lead seven minutes before halftime, and again it was Celtic’s poor defending which brought about their own downfall. Borek Dackal’s ball across the six yard box was teasing but should have been dealt with; both Kristoffer Ajer and Jullien were unable to clear, however, and Lukas Jilis bundled the ball home.
Celtic came out strongly in the second half and should have had an equaliser when the ball fell to Edouard at the back post. It wasn’t to be, with the striker losing his balance and firing tamely at Nita.
A lack of urgency and cutting edge resulted in yet more punishment for Celtic. A counter attack for the home side was led by David Moberg Karlsson, and Jilis scored his second of the night after being picked out at the far post.
Patryck Klimala was sent on as Lennon showed all his cards, but still no chances of note were created. Instead, Srdjan Plavsic added a late fourth to confound the Bhoys’ misery and send them back to Scotland with their heads hanging.
Rangers let a two-goallead slip against Benfica for a second consecutive game as they drew 2-2 at Ibrox.
The two sides were locked together on points at the start of the game and that will remain the same for now – but Steven Gerrard’s side will be kicking themselves after yet again throwing away what looked to be a well-earned three points.
Scott Arfield gave the home side the lead after just seven minutes following a miraculous series of events. Helton Leite somehow saved from Kemar Roofe’s header before James Tavernier nodded onto the crossbar from the rebound, but Arfield was on hand to fire home at Rangers’ third attempt.
Roofe could have had a penalty midway through the second half when he fired a cross into Jan Vertonghen’s hands, but the referee was unmoved.
He took matters into his own hands just minutes later, however, with another stunning European goal. A free-flowing Rangers move found the Englishman at the edge of the box, and he didn’t disappoint as he struck a ferocious effort into the top left corner.
Benfica threw a stone in the works with twelve minutes left when Goncalo Ramos’ shot cannoned off Allan McGregor and Tavernier before nestling in the back of the net.
The comeback was complete three minutes later when substitute Pizzi found space in the Rangers box and fired high into the roof of the net.
Neither side were able to find a winner, but Rangers can seal qualification to the knockout stages with one win from their final two group games.