NEVER has the gulf between two teams in the history of the Scottish Cup been as vast.

After all, this was East Kilbride’s day to make history. Over 4,000 made the short journey across Lanarkshire to witness this landmark occasion. They arrived not even in hope, never mind any whiff of expectation, that their wee team of semi-pros could pull off a giant killing. The fact they were simply here was reward enough.

Hundreds of them gathered outside Airdrieonians’ Excelsior Stadium, the eventual venue chosen for this William Hill Scottish Cup fifth round, even before there was a hint of the gates being opened. It may still be in blustery early days of February but there was a palpable sense among the Lowland League’s proud support decked in scarves, flags and strips that this was their ‘cup final’, a day, a game, a moment in time to savour forever.

While East Kilbride were going to make history one way or another on a cold, grey day in Airdrie, it wasn’t as much the result but what happened during this game that was going to hint at the future of opponents Celtic. It seems ridiculous to claim a club that is still top of the Ladbrokes Premiership, even if it is on goal difference, is in some sort of crisis, but given recent events, this cup tie was of great importance to all at Parkhead, particularly Ronny Deila.

A 3-1 League Cup semi-final defeat to Ross County last weekend was compounded by a 2-1 reverse at Pittodrie, leaving many of the champions’ support less than enamoured of the perceived progress their manager claims is being made. Against the backdrop of the Norwegian having to answer questions about his future in the last few days, the one surrounding this meeting with East Kilbride wasn’t as much who will win, but by how many?

Four, five, six, 15 were all touted as the magic number that would resemble an acceptable tally to ease the pressure on the Celtic manager from those in the stands. In the end, it was the relatively-modest figure of two that the 4000-or so away fans had to content themselves with.

Before we go any further, let’s make one thing clear. Celtic never looked in danger of losing this game. The ball was rarely out with their possession - 70/30 over the 90 minutes - the corner tally steadily rose into double figures - 17 - and Logan Bailly, Celtic’s goalkeeper, could have got his deckchair out given how little he had to do - one shot.

However, for a long spell Deila’s team of internationalists and championship winners seemed unable to breakthrough a collective of part-timers. With five changes to the side that lost in Aberdeen – Bailly, Efe Ambrose, Charlie Mulgrew, James Forrest and Colin Kazim-Richards coming in for Craig Gordon, Mikael Lustig, Nir Bitton, Callum McGregor and Stuart Armstrong - those entrusted with getting by East Kilbride did not blow away the opposition. Far from it.

While Celtic were on the front foot from the off, Billy Ogilvie’s defence largely stood firm with most that was thrown at them. Often Celtic were forced out into the flanks to try and get round Scott Stevenson and Bernard Coll at full-back. On the occasions that James Forrest or Gary Mackay-Steven managed it, particularly in the case of the former, the deliver too often wasn’t good enough.

Indeed, the Parkhead club’s most dangerous play came from set plays, and in particular, corners. Mackay-Steven was a lot more reliable from the dead ball, and it was his looping corner on 20 minutes that eased the nerves of the Celtic support edging closer to the edge of their seats. His curling ball into the box was nodded at goal by Dedryk Boyata, with Leigh Griffiths bundling it in on the line after East Kilbride had managed to block the initial effort.

Now, this is at the point where many in the ground – including this bungling observer – expected the floodgates to open. They didn’t. Forrest sent a 20-yard shot trundling about 10 yards wide, an effort that triggered jeers from his supporters, while goalkeeper Matthew McGinley did brilliantly to block a certain Griffiths second after the Celtic forward had cunningly skipped through the home defence with ease. The shotstopper also reacted quickly as he got his body behind a thundering Mackay-Steven volley.

The chorus of boos from Celtic’s two stands at the half-time whistle told its own story as to how impressed the travelling support was with the narrow margin. The fact that Deila had his team out for the second half with minutes to spare would also suggest that their manager was less than enamoured.

Certainly Celtic’s performance level kicked up a gear in the second half as the bombardment of the East Kilbride box continued. The second arrived within five minutes of the restart with another set-piece being scrambled over the line. Mackay-Steven delivered once again from a corner and Griffiths’ overhead kick was blocked on the line, with Colin Kazim-Richards doing enough to steer the ball over from a couple of yards for his first goal in green and white.

Griffiths was by far the most threatening of their players, and the Scotland internationalist was unlucky not to add to his tally with a couple of efforts that flew just wide before he was taken off for Ryan Christie with 10 minutes to go.

There was the odd fleeting scare for East Kilbride. Centre-half Craig Howie smashed a clearance off his own post, Scott Brown also struck McGinley’s woodwork and Kazim-Richards should have done better with a header straight at the K-Park goalkeeper.

Jack Smith's tame effort at the other end represented East Kilbride's only shot on goal, but they still managed to escape this contest with their heads held high. Whether Celtic's players could do the same at a job done, if not done well, is another matter.