The decision to dispense with Gary Naysmith following their final regular league fixture against Partick Thistle was an almighty roll of the dice by the Palmerston Park hierarchy but the gamble looks set to pay off handsomely.
Having swept aside Montrose 6-2 on aggregate to tee up this tie, Queens were similarly clinical in Kirkcaldy as goals from Lyndon Dykes, Connor Murray and a Euan Murray own goal did the damage.
In a season of astonishing comebacks, David McKay’s late firecracker will give the Fifers hope. Nevertheless, it would take quite the capitulation in the second leg on Saturday for Johnston’s men not to be plying their trade in the second tier next term.
Dykes took just 17 minutes to puncture the positivity on a glorious night in the Fife sunshine. The Australian collected a pass from Iain Wilson on the edge of the box before curling a shot beyond Dean Lyness with the outside of his foot.
Kevin Nisbet, seeking to add to his tally of 34 goals for the season, fizzed a drive agonisingly wide of the post after benefiting from a Michael Doyle slip.
Queens doubled their lead when the prolific Stephen Dobbie turned provider by tying McKay in knots on the touchline before sliding a cut-back to Connor Murray, who netted from point-blank range.
Despite finding themselves chasing a two-goal deficit, Rovers were far from abject in an engaging first period and will wonder how they reached the interval without scoring.
Jamie Gullan was presented with a glorious opportunity when Queens goalkeeper Alan Martin inexplicably rolled the ball straight to a dark blue jersey but Doyle was on hand to clear off the line.
Hibs loanee Gullan then slipped a fine through pass to Callum Crane but the defender was denied by a sharp Martin save.
Raith’s promotion dream looked buried when the visitors added a third after the break. A Fraser Aird free-kick was nodded across goal and, in his desperation to clear from under his own bar, Euan Murray turned into his own net.
It could have been worse for John McGlynn’s men when Dykes rattled the base of the post. And Rovers took full advantage of that reprieve when a Euan Murray cross was only cleared as far as McKay, who lashed home a ferocious drive.