Down thirds produced a polished performance to see off a strong Ballymena side at Malone Park last weekend.

With Ballymena firsts not in action, the visitors had the luxury of being able to travel with a 16-strong squad, but the locals were up for the challenge and James Cunningham proved to be their match winner with two goals on the day.

Philip Brown and Stephen Cullum were outstanding in defence for Down as was Clifford Lennon. While they were stretched at times, they kept their shape and no-nonsense defending was the order of the day.

Down goalkeeper, David Moreland, also had to be alert in the first half, producing a number of timely kicked clearances to keep the Ballymena forwards at bay.

Both umpires played their part in a highly entertaining game; they allowed the game to flow as much as possible and their decision-making was spot on.

Cecil Telford went close for the home side on a number of occasions in the first half. While a number of shots were off target, Telford was also denied by the Ballymena 'keeper on a number of occasions.

With neither side unable to break the deadlock in the first half, Down were keen to make the most of home advantage in the second and they did exactly that with a blistering shot from Cunningham.

The goal came in the 41st minute from well-worked short corner. Telford's push out was stopped by Cunningham who let fly with an unstoppable shot which almost pierced a hole in the backboard.

Ballymena upped their game at this point and they were back on level terms with 12 minutes to go when a livewire centre-forward produced a sublime reverse stick shot which resulted in the ball being drilled into the roof of the net.

To Down's credit, they refused to settle for a draw and pushed forward in search of a winner. Their persistence was rewarded when, with two minutes to go, the locals were a short corner.

Again the push out found Cunningham and while he tried to cream the ball as hard as he could, he only half-hit it.

However, the Ballymena 'keeper was unsighted by one of his defenders and the ball literally trickled into the back of the net.