The domestic treble which many regard as the minimum requirement for Ronny Deila to maintain his credibility as Celtic manager beyond the end of this season remains within his reach after the Scottish champions emerged unscathed from a potentially hazardous Scottish Cup fourth-round assignment.
Two goals from the irrepressible Leigh Griffiths, either side of Carlton Cole’s first for the club, eased Celtic beyond a ferociously committed but comprehensively outclassed Stranraer side. But for the heroics of the League One outfit’s teenage goalkeeper Max Currie, this would have been an even more convincing win for Deila’s men.
Routine wins such as this Stair Park stroll, of course, will do little to dispel the notions of those who believe Celtic’s repeated failings in Europe under Deila have already illustrated he is not the right man for the job.
But this was also a bullet the Norwegian simply had to dodge and there could be no criticism of the attitude and professionalism Celtic brought to the task in hand.
It was an afternoon when the most uncomfortable moments for Celtic were provided by a section of their travelling support who threw flares and firecrackers on to the pitch in front of the west terracing at Stair Park just before kick-off.
It has become a form of defiant recidivism from this particular group of fans, regardless of the pleas and warnings issued by the club in recent years, and there was a look of wearied dismay on the faces of Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell and his fellow directors as they observed the scene.
Scorch marks were left in the penalty area Celtic were attacking in the first half and, aside from a Mark McGuigan shot which flashed wide of target at the other end during an energetic first ten minutes from Stranaer, most of the action was headed in that direction.
Deila’s side were comfortable and composed, taking few chances in possession on a bumpy playing surface and offering their hosts little encouragement that an upset was in any way possible.
Cole was understandably keen to make his presence felt and was presented with a couple of decent early chances, his clever if studied movement in the penalty area picked out on both occasions by threaded through balls from Stefan Johansen.
The big striker’s first effort was smartly blocked by Stranraer centre-half Scott Rumsby, then his next effort was thwarted by a brave save from 18-year-old Currie.
But the rookie goalkeeper, standing in for injured number one David McGurn, was powerless to prevent Griffiths’ 18th minute opener. It was a slick and incisive move from Celtic as Nir Bitton and Callum McGregor combined to shred the Stranraer defence and leave Griffiths with only Currie to beat from around ten yards. There was a deadly inevitability about the outcome as Griffiths’ left-foot shot brought him his 21st goal of the season.
Currie’s defiance looked likely to at least restrict the deficit to one goal before half-time. He showed good athleticism to touch a dipping effort from Kris Commons over, then excellent reactions to deny Griffiths twice in quick succession as the tournament favourites cranked up the tempo.
But Currie was beaten again just three minutes before the interval as Cole got off the mark for Celtic. An astutely lofted cross from Bitton from the right found the former West Ham and Chelsea man inside the six-yard area and he made no mistake with a firm header.
Celtic were largely in cruise control in the second half, despite Stranraer’s admirably relentless level of effort to claw their way back into the tie.
Logan Bailly, deputising for the suspended Craig Gordon in goal, was a spectator for much of only his second appearance for Celtic. The extent of the Belgian ‘keeper’s workload was cutting out a dangerous cross from Willie Gibson and then clutching a Craig Malcolm header on the line.
Celtic could have added to their tally long before Griffiths finally claimed their third goal in the closing moments.
Currie continued to add to his collection of fine saves, keeping out acrobatic efforts from both Cole and Griffiths and then getting down sharply to frustrate Celtic’s top scorer once again from close range.
But Griffiths remained determined to add to his tally and was rewarded for his persistence five minutes from time. He raced on to a through ball from substitute Scott Allan with home appeals for offside going unheeded as he drilled a low shot beyond Currie.