"The worst performance of the season."

That was how Down seconds skipper, Johnny Lennon, summed up his side's woeful performance against bottom-of-the-table Cliftonville last weekend.

The Junior 4 game got off to the worst possible start for the locals with the late arrival of a number of players due to work commitments and to compound Down's misery, the locals also lost midfield general, Raymond McClurg, after 20 minutes.

He bravely started the game, despite nursing a bad ankle injury which would have forced many other players to watch from the sideline. But not McClurg.

A committed clubman, he opted to play to give his all for the team, but the pain became unbearable and he was forced to retire injured.

As for the game itself, it is hard to know where to start. Down were forced to play striker, James Cunningham, in the middle of the park, leaving the striker's duties to Philip Brown, Stephen Moffatt and Richard Tarbotton.

Down created no real chances in a first half where they were under the cosh for long periods and were delighted to go in at the break still on level terms.

Incidentally, lining up against his old Down team mates was Andrew Bassett who played well throughout.

At the start of the second period a mix-up in the Down defence saw Cliftonville score the opening goal. It came after skipper Lennon's pass resulted in a mix-up between Trevor McClurg and Clifford Lennon, both of whom left the ball for each other.

In the end, neither of them went for it and a Cliftonville player raced to collect the ball and entering the penalty area, hew drew Mark Johnston off his life and fired the ball goalwards.

By this stage, McClurg had raced around the back of his 'keeper to provide cover and while he got his stick to the forward's shot, it bounced up off his stick, hitting him on the head.

The umpire had no other choice but to point to the spot and Pollock made it 1-0. Down were at sixes and sevens and really should have played much better against a side which is at the foot of the table.

Midway through the half, Cliftonville made it 2-0 following a penalty corner which saw the ball drilled past Johnston who was unsighted by a number of defenders in front of him.

A bad day and a bad result for Down who will be looking for a major improvement when they face derby rivals, North Down thirds, at Malone Park on New YearÕs Eve.

Skipper Lennon is hoping the break will allow McClurg time to recover from his injury and that several players missing from the firsts last week will be back in contention to allow two players to drop back down to the seconds.

At the time for giving presents, Down gave too many away last Saturday and paid a heavy price. They are still well placed in the league and a win last weekend would have kept the pressure on Bangor, Instonians and Kilkeel at the top of the Junior 4 table.