RONNY DEILA went for double tops against Stranraer and was rewarded as Celtic eased their way into tomorrow’s Scottish Cup Fifth Round draw.
The Hoops boss paired Leigh Griffiths with Carlton Cole up front in a tactical switch on the tight Stair Park ground and he couldn’t have wished for a better outcome.
Top scorer Griffiths rattled in two goals to take this season’s tally to a remarkable 22 and Cole, starting his first game for the club, scored his first goal – Celtic’s second – to make sure the Parkhead men avoided any banana skins on a dodgy surface.
The result was never in any doubt as Deila’s men took control right from the off and stand-in keeper Logan Bailly was asked to make just one save in the entire 90 minutes.
Celtic went into the Cup-tie with only four victories in their last 10 games and it was obvious they were out to build on that record.
Cole was continually making a nuisance of himself in enemy territory and the home defence had difficulty in curbing his menace.
He was bowled over in the penalty area after a challenge from David Pettigrew, but referee Andrew Dallas, son of Hugh who is well known to Hoops fans, waved play on.
In the 12th minute, a neat pass from Stefan Johansen found the former England international hitman, but, possibly understandably given his lack of game time, he was slow to react and the chance was lost.
Six minutes later, however, Griffiths showed his frontline partner how it was done as he pulverised in the opening goal.
It was a good build-up with Jozo Simunovic, on the left, passing inside to to Callum McGregor whose deft touch set Griffiths free inside the box.
The ball ran to his trusty left foot and the striker lashed an unstoppable drive wide of rookie goalkeeper Max Currie.
In the 25th minute, Griffiths came close to doubling the advantage after Johansen and McGergor combined, but on this occasion his drive was just wide of the target.
There was little doubt, though, that Cole’s presence was unsettling the Stranraer back four and he could be a real threat once he achieves full match fitness.
Kris Commons was just out of luck with a clever chip in the 36th minute which was tipped over the bar by Currie, the 18-year-old keeper playing only his third game for the Stair Park outfit.
Four minutes from the interval, Griffiths was clean through, but he elected for power rather than precision and the under-pressure goalie threw up his hands to push the ball to safety.
He was helpless a minute later, however, when Cole got his first for Celtic – and well deserved it was, too.
It looked the chance was lost when he missed a header from close range after a swerving left-wing cross from the hard-working Keiran Tierney, who put in another solid display before he was substituted late on.
The ball eventually dropped to Nir Bitton who calmly found a pocket of space in the crowded penalty area and picked out Cole at the back post. The former Chelsea and West Ham hitman couldn’t miss from two yards as he nodded home with Currie and his defenders stranded.
Johansen almost got a third shortly after the turnaround when he went on a remarkable surge through the middle of the home defence, but his finishing effort was booted off the line by the scrambling Scott Robertson.
Just before the hout mark, Griffiths tried his luck with a 30-yard snap-shot, but Currie was equal to the task.
And the teenager defied Celtic’s top marksman again in the 67th minute when a long kick from Bailly bounced once in the penalty box before Griffiths tried an impromptu acrobatic effort. Currie reacted brillaintly to push the ball over the bar.
In the space of seven minutes, Deila pushed on Scott Allan, Tom Rogic and Tyler Blackett for Cole, Commons and Tierney as Celtic kept up the pressure.
However, in the 77th minute Deila’s men got a fright when Steve Bell headed on a right-wing corner-kick and Craig Malcolm was free only three yards from goal.
He thought he had scored with his header, but Bailly blocked the ball and then clutched it to defy the Stranraer player.
Nine minutes from time, Griffiths should have scored again when he was presented with an opportunity, but he hammered the ball off Currie.
He did better three minutes later when he latched onto a cute through pass from Allan before toe-poking the third beyond the courageous Currie.
Celtic now await their fate in the next round which will be made at 6.15pm tomorrow.
TEAM: Bailly; Lustig, Ambrose, Simunovic, Tierney (sub: Blackett 76); McGregor, Bitton, Johansen, Commons (sub: Rogic 74); Cole (sub: Allan 69), Griffiths.