All the talk was of form and underdogs before this potentially tricky cup tie, with United searching for a first win since August’s Dundee derby and Queens’ on an 11-game undefeated run.
And it was clear that Peter Houston was not prepared to take any chances for the Dumfries trip, with the Second Division leaders having already claimed the cup scalp of Hibs and Rangers this season.
Both sides made two changes from contrasting weekend results for the Scottish Communities League Cup tie, with Queens player-boss Johnston bringing in Derek Young and Gavin Reilly for Derek Lyle and Paul Burns after Saturday’s 3-0 win at Brechin City. United, on the back of a heavy defeat at home to Hearts by the same scoreline, welcomed captain Jon Daly back from injury as well as Richie Ryan, coming in at the expense of Ryan Dow and Stuart Armstrong.
Like against Hearts at the weekend, United bossed possession from the start and on five minutes Russell was denied a free shot at goal eight-yards out by a last-gasp challenge from Palmerston captain Chris Higgins. Lee Robinson pulled off a brilliant save to deny Russell on 27 minutes after the United striker connected with Michael Gardyne’s low cross, but Russell made no mistake with the rebound to place the ball into the net.
Moments later United almost doubled their lead but Daly’s 20-yard effort curled narrowly wide of Robinson’s top left corner.
Nicky Clark almost levelled the scores on the stroke half time when he escaped his marker to get his head on Reilly’s flick-on at the back post but his header was tipped over the bar by Cierzniak.
Queens came out flying after the break, with Willie Gibson and Danny Carmichael both causing problems on the wing before Reilly was denied by a last-gasp tackle from Sean Dillon on 50 minutes.
Reilly, fresh from his injury time equaliser at Ibrox, found space again two minutes later, this time finding Carmichael on the right for the winger to drive a low shot across Cierzniak’s goal. The Doonhamers picked out attacking midfielders Carmichael, Gibson and Burns, and substitute Burns teed up Clark to the right of the United box on 70 minutes for the in-form striker to test Cierzniak with a stinging first-time effort.
Clark had another chance, this time picked out by Carmichael, but he couldn’t properly with the ball before Young’s long-range effort was collected comfortably by the United keeper.
It was a busy spell from Queens but for all their efforts they couldn’t find the net.
United, meanwhile, despite spending most of the second half on the back-foot, continued to threaten on the break through Russell and Gardyne, with the latter curling an impressive effort just over the bar on 76 minutes.
Clark went close again in the 81st minute when he fired Carmichael’s lay-off inches past the post from the edge of the box, before Lyle replaced Reilly as the hosts chased the equaliser.
Russell had the chance to seal it with two minutes left when he intercepted Holt’s slack back-pass to round Robinson but Queens defender Higgins managed to block his shot into an open goal.
The Dumfries men, without a win over Dundee United in 64 years, gave their all but a gulf in quality shone through in the end as the Tangerines booked their place in the quarter final draw.
Queen of the South: Robinson, Mitchell, Durnan, Higgins, Holt, Carmichael, McKenna, Derek Young, Gibson, Reilly, Clark. Subs: Atkinson, Lyle, McGuffie, Burns, Orsi.
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Watson, Dillon, Gunning, McLean, Gardyne, Ryan, Rankin, Flood, Russell, Daly. Subs: Banks, Millar, Armstrong, Dow, Vignal.
Referee: E Norris