If Down's senior side wins the title race, the players could well look back upon this game as a defining moment.

Campbellians have made a terrific start to the season and were among the front runners with a number of notable performances in recent weeks.

Down knew they had to produce a polished display at Malone park last weekend and while the first half ended with honours even, the home side stepped up the tempo after the break.

While delighted with a 3-1 win, the locals could have scored several more goals, with Chris Taylor, Richard Owens and Sinclair White guilty of missed opportunities when they had a lot more time to control the ball before picking their spot.

That said, in a game which produced free-flowing hockey, both sides went toe-to-toe in what was an enthralling first 35 minutes played in the right spirit, with both sides battling for supremacy.

Down took the lead in the fifth minute when Mark Elliott, who can't stop scoring, popped up to get on the end of an Owens pass to fire his side into the lead, sending the home supporters wild with delight.

But Campbellians didn't travel to Malone Park to make up the numbers and were back on level terms in the 10th minute following a well-worked short corner which resulted in the ball being driven past a posse of defenders and goalkeeper, Mark Johnston.

In fact, apart from one save in the opening 35 minutes, Down's 'keeper was rarely troubled for the remainder of the game with defenders Paul Neill, James Erskine, Jeremy McCready and Chris Lennon in great form.

Full backs Neill and Lennon also drove forward when the opportunity arose creating problems in the middle of the park where the visitors often found themselves outnumbered.

Campbellians missed a glorious opportunity to take the lead in the 14th minute and five minutes later, Paul Tate should have made it 2-1 at the other end. Johnston was then penalised by umpire Marshall, but the resulting short corner strike flew wide of the post.

A surging Ringland run then carved out an opportunity for Elliott, but his control let him down at the last moment and the chance was gone before McCready broke up a dangerous looking Campbellians attack.

With five minutes until the break, Owens slipped the ball to White on the edge of the penalty area and the latter's goal-bound shot struck a defender's stick before the ball clipped his leg and the umpire awarded a short corner.

Tate's push out was stopped by White and the big midfielder was again denied when his shot was deflected for a long corner. With seconds to go before the break, Ringland again found Elliott whose shot flew wide.

Down upped the tempo in the second period and were back in front within five minutes of the restart. White and Elliott were denied in quick succession with the umpire eventually awarding a penalty corner.

The push out found White who slipped the ball to Owens and his flicked effort fooled the 'keeper and found its way into the net. Adam McKee was beginning to dominate the middle of the park and his probing runs alongside Tate were causing problems. Elliott again tested the 'keeper, with the rebound being cleared out of the danger area by former Down player, Andrew Bassett.

Tate almost made it 3-1 when he popped unmarked at the far post and Taylor should have got his name on the scoresheet minutes later. A scintillating pass from McKee saw Taylor with just the 'keeper to beat, but he had more time than he realised and while he produced a majestic reverse sweep shot, the ball rolled past the wrong side of the post.

Taylor however made amends when he did score to make it 3-1 against the Belfast side which at this stage had been reduced to 10 players following a sending off. The striker's goal came with just four minutes to go.

Down were worthy winners given their second half performance and the use of two rolling substitutes had a major say in the final scoreline. During the 70 minutes, Down were awarded 15 short corners and while they produced a number of clever variations, they will be disappointed they did not get a bigger return in terms of goals.

This weekend it's Ballymena away before Down face the PSNI; two more wins would see them clear at the top and that's where they intend to stay.