Queen’s Park came off second best to Stranraer for the first time this season as they sank to a 3-1 play-off defeat at Stair Park.
The Spiders now have it all to do in the return leg at Hampden on Saturday and can be grateful to goalkeeper Neil Parry for keeping the deficit to just two goals.
Tony Quinn went close with an opening minute volley and that exciting start set the tone for the rest of the game.
Next up for an effort on goal was Ian Watt, who hit the side-netting from distance following a neat one-two with Quinn.
The home side’s earliest threat came in the eighth minute through midfielder Stephen Stirling, whose surging run and shot gave Parry something to think about.
Shortly after, Stranraer’s Chris Aitken swung in a brilliant cross from the right which both Craig Malcolm and Ryan Borris were inches from connecting with.
But sixty seconds later the Blues did get their goal.
Malcolm, a thorn in the visitors’ side all night, won possession in midfield and played a fantastic through ball to Sean Winter, who in turn drilled into the far corner to give his team a 16th minute lead.
With Stranraer dominating, Martin Grehan should have added a second, but turned Winter’s cross over when it seemed easier to score.
However, continued pressure saw the hosts increase the lead.
On 22 minutes, Borris found Grehan in the box and his knock-down was dispatched home with power by the left foot of Malcolm.
The rest of the first half was one-way traffic. Frank McKeown, Borris and Malcolm all had excellent chances to put Stranraer out of Queen’s Park’s sight, but a mixture of Parry’s heroic goalkeeping and goal-line clearances prevented a third goal.
Whatever Spiders boss Gardner Speirs said at half-time worked, because Queen’s pulled a goal back within two minutes of the re-start.
Watt’s corner was headed home by Quinn to restore hope amongst the travelling fans.
On 55 and 62 minutes, Parry again proved his worth, saving expertly from Malcolm’s header and shot respectively.
Man of the match Malcolm soon engineered another attack, winning a ball he had no right to in midfield and sending Winter into the box. The winger cut-back to Grehan but Parry refused to be beaten.
The Spiders’ goalie did concede again in the 68th minute though. Winter volleyed in his second and Stranraer’s third after being found by Grehan’s centre.
Queen’s were missing the creativity of Martin McBride and David Anderson in midfield, but Jamie Longworth managed to release Craig Smith through the middle on 78 minutes, only for the front-man to be outmuscled by McKeown.
Had Quinn been blessed with more pace, he may have met a Longworth centre from the right with three minutes to go, but it was not to be and the match finished 3-1 to Stranraer.
Gardner Speirs said: “Stranraer should’ve been out of sight, but they’re not. We started fine and that should’ve set a tone for us, but we were a bit off it at times in one or two areas.
“There was a 25 minute spell in the first half when we could’ve lost an awful lot more goals, but a combination great goalkeeping and great defending kept us in it.
“We should be out of it, but we’re not, and that’s the positive thing we can take from tonight.”
Stranraer boss Keith Knox said: “It was a tremendous performance. 3-1 flattered Queen’s Park. It shows why we’ve done what we did over the last five weeks with resting people and getting everyone 100 per cent fit.”
Queen’s Park will look to fight their way back into the tie at Hampden on Saturday. Martin McBride returns to the team but David Anderson is likely to miss out again through injury.