Down sent out a warning to their main title rivals with an emphatic derby win over Saintfield last weekend.

The opening game of the season in Senior Two was played in atrocious conditions at The Demesne and it ended in controversy with Saintfield furious the umpire awarded the visitors a fifth goal with just under 10 minutes to go.

Both sides knew the importance of not only stating the new season with a win, but gaining a crucial psychological advantage over their title rivals.

Two seasons ago, the local sides slugged it out all the way to the wire and Saintfield, who produced some great performances last season, are keen to prove they are good enough to be considered as serious title contenders.

But they flattered to deceive in parts and Down's goalkeeper, Mark Johnston was rarely troubled, unlike his opposite number Graeme Finlay. Down were missing Aaron Minnis, Chris Taylor and Adam McKee, while Saintfield were also not at full strength, missing Paul Fenton, Gavin Kirkpatrick, Gareth Lennon, Lance Walker and Chris Telford.

The heavy rain ensured there would be no free-flowing hockey on a sodden, wet pitch and, like two prize fighters weighing up each other before the first telling punch was landed, Saintfield and Down engaged in a little shadow boxing before the visitors seized the early advantage.

Paul Tate ensured Down got off to a flying start following a short corner awarded in the third minute. The ball was worked to Sinclair White who unleashed a powerful shot which Tate intended to deflect past Finlay.

Instead, the Down man inadvertently stopped the ball dead before producing a sublime reverse stick shot which confused the Saintfield defence, with the ball just crossing the line.

The home side did not cave in and while the conditions were difficult, the players tried to play constructive hockey. Richard Owens and Matt Owen worked hard in the middle of the park, but they found it difficult to pick the Down defence.

However, they didn't have to wait long to finally find a way through. A clever pass picked out one of the Saintfield club's rising stars, Conor Patterson, who picked his spot past Mark Johnston.

The goal provided the home players with a tremendous lift, but Down battled back to regain the lead three minutes later.

Again it was that man Tate who was in the right place at the right time to score and what a goal it was. With the ball seemingly stuck between his feet and surrounded by a gaggle of Saintfield defenders, the Down man somehow managed to break free with the ball, which he then smashed past Finlay.

Owens was then sin-binned by the umpire before the break, with the same punishment handed out to Down's Stephen Ferguson in the second period.

With just one goal in arrears at the interval, Saintfield were confident of getting back on level terms in the second period, but they will be bitterly disappointed they didn't manage to get a single shot in on goal. Down's 'keeper Johnston was more worried about the pouring rain than the threat posed by the Saintfield strikers.

The visitors went 3-1 ahead in the 48th minute when Mark Elliott scored his eighth goal in three games. He collected a pass from Ferguson on the right and when he made his way into the circle, he drew Finlay off his line and tucked the ball home from close range.

The goal proved to be the killer punch for the home side and while it tried to mount a number of attacks, play kept breaking down before it got near the heart of the visitors' penalty area.

Stephen Ferguson scored a typical trademark goal in the 52nd minute with a powerful strike which gave the exposed Finlay no chance from point blank range and it was game over.

With less than 10 minutes to go, Down were awarded a controversial fifth "goal" which upset the home players who remonstrated with the official.

White drove a powerful free hit into the heart of the penalty area and the ball ended up in the net, but Tate wheeled away in celebration claiming he got the slightest of touches on the ball before it crossed the line. While the goal had no impact on the outcome of the game, the Saintfield players were furious.

At the final whistle, the scoreline reflected how much Down had commanded a game which they had prepared for meticulously. They didn't want to leave anything to chance and had no intention of not respecting their opponents.

This weekend, Down are red-hot favourites against Omagh at Malone Park, while Saintfield face Ballymena. It's a game The Demesne outfit should win and they know that even at this early stage, they can't afford to fall to far back in the race for the title.