Sparta Prague 4-1 Celtic: Bhoys bow out after repeat performance
Lukas Julis
AFP
Odsonne Edouard fired Celtic into the lead at Sparta Prague, but they were beaten 4-1 again and exited the Europa League.

Celtic were again tormented by Lukas Julis in another 4-1 defeat to Sparta Prague as they crashed out of the Europa League on Thursday.

Neil Lennon's Bhoys had lost by the same scoreline at home to Sparta earlier in the month and Odsonne Edouard's opener in the away fixture provided only a brief moment of respite before the hosts responded.

Dismal defensive lapses allowed David Hancko and Julis - the hat-trick hero in Scotland scoring twice this time - to prematurely end this year's European adventure.

And Sparta substitute Srdan Plavsic added the final flourish in the closing seconds.

The brutal conclusion was at odds with an encouraging Celtic start which saw Edouard lead a brilliant break 15 minutes in and tie Hancko in knots on the left-hand side of the area, finally shooting across goalkeeper Florin Nita to find the net via the post.

But the hosts were level after 26 minutes as Hancko hit back, controlling David Pavelka's scuffed shot before lashing past Scott Bain from close range when Celtic failed to clear a corner.

And the turnaround was complete seven minutes before the break as Borek Dockal's low ball through the box was inexplicably allowed to reach Julis at the far post for a simple finish.

It could, and perhaps should, have been three heading into half-time after Ladislav Krejci became the latest home player to find space in the Celtic area, but he headed Dockal's free-kick against the post.

Edouard came to the fore again following the restart but saw a low free-kick saved smartly by Nita, who was then grateful to make a far more routine stop as the Celtic forward sent a tame effort straight into his arms.

Lennon's men kept pushing, but Mohamed Elyounoussi's mistake allowed Sparta to counter and David Moberg Karlsson crossed for Julis to sweep in once more 10 minutes from time.

The humiliation was not yet over and Plavsic beat Bain to the ball outside the area and slid into the empty net to condemn the Hoops to a repeat of their Celtic Park nightmare.

 

What does it mean? Ten in a row talk a long way off

This was supposed to be Celtic's crowning season. After nine straight Scottish Premiership titles, they again held the upper hand over rivals Rangers heading into the new campaign.

But Lennon's second spell in charge is falling apart quite spectacularly. They have just two wins in nine across all competitions and, while an early European exit perhaps represents an advantage in the title race, they look some way short of Steven Gerrard's men right now.

Julis haunts Hoops again

Julis had scored only three goals in 19 Europa League appearances. Then he met Celtic.

The striker scored with three of five shots - two on target - in the away fixture and was even more clinical this time. All three of his efforts were sent goalwards and his two goals proved decisive.

Jullien and Ajer all at sea

Neither Christopher Jullien nor Kristoffer Ajer played in the first game - Shane Duffy and Nir Bitton paired for that painful outing - but this new Celtic centre-back duo fared no better.

The second goal, which turned the tide after the visitors had looked capable of restoring their advantage, saw Ajer - who did not make a single interception - fail to cut out a routine cross, while Jullien was seemingly unaware of the lurking Julis.

Key Opta Facts

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- Since it was rebranded in 2009-10, Celtic have won just two of their 24 away games in the Europa League.
- Julis has scored five goals in his last two games in the Europa League, two more than he netted in his first 19 in the competition.
- Edouard has been directly involved in six goals in his last eight Europa League games (four goals, two assists).
- Edouard has also scored in two of his last three away appearances in the competition, after scoring in just one of his first six.

What's next?

Could the Scottish League Cup provide a much-needed distraction for Celtic? They face Ross County on Sunday. Sparta are at Teplice in the league on the same day.

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