Celtic's 4-1 humbling by Sparta Prague represents a 15-year European nadir
It was like watching the baddest of bad 1980s Celtic teams in Europe to witness Neil Lennon’s men being humbled 4-1 by Sparta Prague on a horrific night.
Shambolic doesn’t begin to describe it. Celtic looked entirely out of their depth as they were effectively sent spinning out of contention in their Europa League group … which is only at the halfway stage. The drubbing is the club’s most abject showing on the continent since their 5-0 defeat away to Artmedia Bratislava 15 years ago. The inquests will be corruscating for Lennon and his players. And so they should be on an evening when Lukas Julis became the first visiting player to net a hat-trick at Celtic Park since Eric Black in 1983.
Lennon’s men have now only one win in six and have lost their past three European games at Celtic Park. Against the Czechs they, frankly, lost all credibility on the continental stage. Just as well Celtic Park was bereft of spectators. Punters would have been in flaming-torch-and-pitchfork mood at the end of this sorry encounter.
The home side were laughably inept defensively. A fatal flaw, but only one of an array. They lacked any semblance of the cohesion, technique, sharpness and discipline of visitors supposed to be easy meat for the Scottish champions through missing half a dozen players to a virulent Covid-19 outbreak in their country that has meant their league had been shutdown for the past month. Instead it was Lennon’s men that were chopped liver. Or offal, if you will. Truly awful.
Celtic were so shapeless and soft that the concession of only four goals – two of them to give the Prague side a 2-0 half-time lead – represented them getting off lightly. For Sparta also hit the goal-frame three times, as they made good on coach Vaclav Kotal’s prediction that Celtic would be easier to play against than other Group H teams AC Milan and Lille who they had conceded seven goals against in two heavy losses.
It was buttock-clenching defending that cost them the 26th minute opener. As the Celtic backline played statues, Julis slammed in after David Hancko headed off the post from a corner. Julis’ second, on the stroke of the interval, was another series of hideously poor decisions. A cross that found Jeremie Frimpong nowhere after a run upfield, was backheaded away by Scott Brown only into the path Adam Caberick. He touched to Julis, and he finished with style.
The second half fightback from Celtic shouldn’t be overstated. Yes, they dominated possession and pulled a goal back through Leigh Griffiths in 65 minutes – only five minutes after he had been introduced – who pounced to tuck away a rebound from a Tom Rogic shot that had been saved. But they were opened up all too easily for Julis’ third from a 76th minute breakaway, and had utterly given up the ghost when Ladislav Krecji added a fourth in added time.
Celtic: Bain; Frimpong, Duffy, Bitton, Laxalt (Ntcham 80); Brown (Elhamed 60), McGregor; Christie, Rogic, Elyounoussi (Griffiths 60); Edouard (Ajeti 80).
Sparta Prague: Nita; Pletchaty, Pavelka, Hancko (Lischka 72); Polidar, Karabec (Travnik 72), Polidar (Krejci 79), Sacek, Windheim: Julis, Moberg-Karlsson (Plavsic 88).