Europa: Julis shines as Celtic loses to Sparta 4-1

Celtic are on the brink of Europa League elimination after crumbling to a 4-1 home defeat to Sparta Prague.

Neil Lennon’s side have just one point from their opening three group games leaving their hopes of reaching the round of 32 in tatters at the halfway stage. Lukas Julis’ hat-trick (26, 45, 76) did most of the damage at an empty Celtic Park.

Substitute Leigh Griffiths reduced the arrears (65), but after Julis completed his treble, Ladislav Krejc compounded the home side’s misery with a fourth in the final minute of normal time.

The result leaves Celtic facing a mountain to climb in Group H – bottom on one point – with Sparta leapfrogging them up to third on three points. Lille usurped AC Milan at the summit following a fine 3-0 win at the San Siro.

This was Celtic’s first meeting with their Czech opponents in European competition, and the hosts were bidding to avoid a third straight Europa League home defeat for the first time. Meanwhile, Sparta’s squad headed to Glasgow decimated by health issues and injuries, with first-choice goalkeeper Milan Heca and Slovakian stopper Dominik Holec both out.

Lennon spoke prior to kick-off of the need for his side to “earn the right” to take maximum points from this double-header in their bid to catch up with Group H pace-setters Milan and Lille. But they were second best during a very flat opening half as Sparta deservedly led 2-0 at the break.

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