Celtic were forced to settle for a 2-2 draw at Lille, after letting a two-goal lead slip in a thrilling Europa League encounter in northern France.
The Scottish champions made a dream start, with Mohamed Elyounoussi producing two magnificent finishes in the space of a few minutes - one a curling shot from long range, the other a composed finish on the run.
Scott Bain saved a penalty from Lille striker Jonathan David before half-time, but the French side roared back into the game in the second half, with goals from Zeki Celik and Jonathan Ikone, as Celtic struggled to repel constant pressure.
Both sides had chances to win the game late on, but a point for Celtic keeps their European campaign alive, with back-to-back matches against bottom side Sparta Prague to come.
A game of two halves at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy...
This was a frenetic and at times breathless match, but Neil Lennon may wonder what might have been as he watched his team respond to conceding eight goals in a week to Rangers, AC Milan and Aberdeen. The Celtic manager had challenged his players to respond to their critics, and he could not have asked for a better start against the only undefeated team in Ligue 1.
Lille were trying to break their own winless run - they hadn't tasted victory at home in European competition for more than eight years, a run extending 12 games. A Celtic side lacking in confidence appeared the perfect opponents to end that sequence, and the French dominated early possession, nearly taking the lead after 12 minutes.
Celtic failed to clear a corner, and after Celik's shot was blocked, Bain made a one-handed save to deny Soumare. Bain was busy again soon after as he punched Yazici's curling freekick behind. It appeared to be a sign of things to come, but Celtic then began to take control.
Lille: Maignan (6), Zeki Celik (7), Soumaoro (6), Botman (6), Bradaric (6), Ikone (7), Andre (6), Soumare (6), Bamba (6), Yusuf Yazici (6), David (5).
Subs: Sanches (7), Yilmaz (6), Araujo (6), Weah (n/a).
Celtic: Bain (8), Frimpong (7), Duffy (6), Ajer (7), Laxalt (8), Brown (7), McGregor (8), Ntcham (7), Christie (6), Ajeti (7), Elyounoussi (8).
Subs: Bitton (7), Edouard (6), Soro (n/a), Rogic (n/a), Welsh (n/a).
Man of the match: Mohamed Elyounoussi.
Ajeti had the ball in the net after 19 minutes when he slotted home Elyounoussi's through ball, but was correctly flagged offside. The pair linked again a few minutes later, but the Swiss striker blazed over from eight yards out when it looked easier to score.
Third time proved the charm for the Ajeti-Elyounoussi combination. Ajeti pinched the ball from Celik and a neat backheel sent Elyounoussi clear with one man to beat. As Ntcham raced up in support, a simple pass was the obvious option - but the Norwegian winger instead curled a wonderful shot into the far corner from 25 yards, leaving Maignan flatfooted.
Four minutes later, Elyounoussi doubled Celtic's lead with arguably an even better finish. Frimpong dashed down the right, and his cutback was superbly swept home by Elyounoussi near the penalty spot. Given their recent form, Celtic were suddenly in unfamiliar territory, but it was wholly deserved.
Elyounoussi nearly had a hat-trick but couldn't get over Christie's cross at the back post. Lille were stunned - but then awarded a penalty when Duffy clipped David's heels, though the foul appeared to take place outside the box. The Canadian striker, a £27m summer signing, picked himself up as he attempted to score his first goal for Lille, but Bain made a terrific one-handed save low to his left.
There was another dangerous moment for Celtic just before the break. Bain hacked clear a Yazici freekick with his feet, but when the ball was sent back into the box, he dropped it at the feet of Botman, whose shot towards the unguarded goal hit the crossbar and went over. The visitors were relieved to hear the halftime whistle.
Celtic suffered a huge blow at the start of the second half as Kris Ajer limped off with a leg injury. Nir Bitton replaced him in defence, making his first appearance since testing positive for Covid-19 while on international duty with Israel.
Lille were cranking up the pressure, but Celtic's compact defensive structure was holding firm. Bamba fired over from distance, Yazici's shot was blocked by Elyounoussi and the excellent Laxalt headed away with David lurking at the back post.
Odsonne Edouard, another returning from Covid-19, replaced Ajeti with 25 minutes go, but it was Lille - who made three changes on the hour mark - who then broke through moments later. Celik popped up the back post to poke home Soumouro's flick-on and put the game back in the balance.
Celtic were sitting back and inviting Lille onto them, but Elyounoussi was still dangerous on the break, and ran out of room in the box when he had the chance to shoot. Edouard then broke and nearly slipped Laxalt through on goal, but the pass was just too heavy.
Celtic made one change from Sunday's 3-3 draw away to Aberdeen, with captain Scott Brown returning in midfield. He replaced Tom Rogic, who dropped to the bench, and he was joined by Odsonne Edouard and Nir Bitton, who recovered after positive tests for Covid-19.
Lille's waves of attacks continued, and as Celtic withdrew even deeper, the equaliser eventually came, as Ikone stabbed home from ten yards with the help of a deflection after Celtic failed to clear a corner.
The effort required to recover the deficit, and to defend it, appeared to have drained both teams, but Frimpong still had the energy to surge through the home defence, but his angle was too tight as he shot over the bar.
Lille continued to press, but ultimately Celtic's makeshift defence held on to claim a point, which given recent circumstances may prove to be a telling one further down the line.
Also in Group H...
AC Milan cruised past Sparta Prague 3-0 for a second straight win in the Europa League.
Milan easily overcame a missed penalty by Zlatan Ibrahimovic to remain unbeaten in 23 games in all competitions, dating back to last season.
Ibrahimovic didn't score but made his presence felt in the first 45 minutes of the game in Group H. The 39-year-old crossed for Brahim Diaz from the right to net the opening goal with a shot between the legs of goalkeeper Milan Heca in the 24th minute.
Ibrahimovic, who contracted coronavirus last month but has scored four goals in three matches since his return, wasted a golden opportunity to add another later in the first half. After he was fouled in the area, Ibrahimovic hit the crossbar from the penalty spot in the 36th minute.
He was replaced by Rafael Leao for the second half, and the substitute made it 2-0 from close range after he was set up by a precise cross from Diogo Dalot.
Dalot added the third after a solo run in the 67th.
What Neil Lennon said...
Celtic boss Neil Lennon: "We played really well. I'm delighted in how we approached the game. There were some great performances and it was a great point which keeps us alive in the group.
"The players played with great belief tonight. We need to win our home games now. Milan and Lille play back to back so it's important we take as many points as we can off Prague in these next two games."
Man of the Match - Mohamed Elyounoussi
It could have been so much better for Celtic in northern France and the reason they had the opportunity to seal all three points was Elyounoussi's contribution.
His first was a stunner, a curled effort from 25 yards which left Lille goalkeeper Maignan stranded. The second was another clinical finish to pick out the far corner.
He has now scored with three of his four shots on target in the Europa League this season.
It’s the best I’ve seen him. He was strong and fit. He scored two beauties and was tremendous. He just has to get that consistency now. He was a class player tonight and a real catalyst for a very strong performance.
Opta stats - Celtic's good away record in Europe continues
- Lile are winless in their last 13 European matches (incl. qualifiers) on home soil (D6 L7) since a 2-0 victory over FC København in August 2012.
- Away from home in the Europa League, Celtic have only managed to win two of their 23 matches (D11 L10).
- Celtic have lost just one of their last 11 away matches in all European competition (W6 D4), going unbeaten in the last four such games.
- Lille have failed to keep a clean sheet in European competition in each of their last 13 matches, since a 0-0 draw with Everton in October 2014.
Celtic face Aberdeen in the rearranged 2020 William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden Park next Sunday; kick-off 2.30pm.
Next up for Celtic in the Europa League is a clash with Sparta Prague at Celtic Park on Thursday November 5; kick-off 8pm.