Humiliating defeat turns up the heat on Lennon
Celtic 1 Sparta Prague 4
Benfica 3 Rangers 3
Eastadio da Luz
Change: Neil Lennon (pic: SNS Group)
Neil Lennon was facing increasing pressure after seeing Celtic suffer one of the club’s worst European defeats amid a run of poor form.
Already nine points adrift of Rangers in the Premiership, the Scottish champions are now rooted to the bottom of their Europa League group after a nightmare performance at Parkhead.
The depleted Czechs were given little chance before the game but they outplayed the home side with some ease to run out comfortable winners.
Poor defending had Celtic 2-0 down at the interval and despite substitute Leigh Griffiths handing his side a lifeline after 65 minutes, it was a false dawn.
With Celtic’s defence in disarray, Sparta netted twice in the last 13 minutes to register a deserved victory which leaves the Celts without a win from three games.
The manner of the defeat, which all but eliminated Celtic from Europe, will be a major concern for Lennon as his players lacked the hunger and desire to compete against a team which on paper they should have been far too strong for.
It was a third home defeat in a row for the first time in 30 years for Celtic, who now have just one win in six games.
“There was a lack of hunger tonight and I don’t know where it’s come from because we’ve put in a really good performance on Sunday,” said Lennon. “I’ve defended the players up until now but that was unacceptable tonight.
“There needs to be a culture change within the club. I need to look at the culture, get them more hungry, get them back to basics. All those things Sparta did. We have to be far more aggressive in our play. As the manager I have to accept responsibility but the players have to look at themselves, too.”
“It’s an accumulation of things catching up. We need to show a bit more humility and get back on the training ground. It’s a bitterly disappointing performance.
“The group is probably gone. We need to get some respect back with our next performance. I’ve been here a long time and that’s a very poor performance from a Celtic team.
“This isn’t the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my time at the club. It feels like it is because it’s present. But it won’t happen again, that’s for sure.”
It was a night to remember in Lisbon for Alfredo Morelos who became Rangers’ record European goalscorer but one of frustration for Steven Gerrard after his team threw away a two-goal lead against 10 men.
The Ibrox outfit looked set for another superb result in Europe when the Colombian put his side 3-1 up after 51 minutes with his 22nd goal for the club in Europe, in doing so breaking Ally McCoist’s long-held record.
Rangers recovered from the loss of a 2nd-minute own goal from Connor Goldson to stun their hosts, who had Nicolas Otamendi red carded after just 19 minutes.
An own goal from Diogo Goncalves after 24 minutes was followed a minute later by a Glen Kamara strike to provide what should have been a strong foundation for Rangers to build on.
Morelos seemed to have set up the victory in the second half but defensive lapses allowed Benfica to snatch a point, the equaliser coming in the closing seconds.
Gerrard’s side conceded more goals against Benfica than they had in their previous nine games in all competitions combined but remain unbeaten in Group D and well placed to progress to the knockout stage.
“Once the red card happened some of the football and some of the creativity we produced and the goals we scored were absolutely fantastic,” said the Rangers boss.
“I thought there were periods in the game where we actually played the best we have this season.
“It feels like a defeat because at 3-1 our game management and our order on the pitch should have been better to get us over the line.”