Down’s bid to secure promotion to Senior One next season ended in disappointment at Stormont last week.

The locals lost 4-2 to title rivals South Antrim in a thrilling play-off game and will have to regroup to mount another bid to secure the Senior Two crown next season.

In the final analysis, two controversial moments sealed Down's fate as their brave bid to secure promotion ended.

The first came on a cold night at The Glade in Mossley earlier in the season when a "goal" scored by Ashley Gibson was disallowed by an umpire who instead of playing advantage, chalked the goal off and awarded a penalty stroke which the locals missed.

The game against bottom-of-the-table Larne ended in a draw. If Down had won, they would have been promoted and not had to face South Antrim in last week's play off.

The second controversial incident came during last Wednesday night's play-off when everyone on the pitch and spectators packed into the stand saw Stephen Ferguson deliberately taken out of the game by a South Antrim player. Incredibly, neither umpire saw the incident which would almost certainly have resulted in a straight red car. In the end, play was waved on.

Down, who were missing the suspended Sinclair White and the injured Paul Tate, were always going to be up against it, but they played well as South Antrim attempted to gain the upper hand early on.

The locals went into the game with a five man formation at the back, but it didn't work as Ashley Gibson and Mark Elliott were not receiving enough of the ball to test the South Antrim 'keeper.

The Lisburn side took the lead when Ricky O'Neill went on surging run down the right hand side which took him into the penalty area. His ferocious shot was saved by Down's 'keeper, but the ball rebounded to Gordon McCandless who rifled it into the corner of the net, with Down defenders guilty of ball watching.

At the other end, Chris Taylor was making life difficult for the South Antrim defence and Gibson saw a snapshot fly past the wrong side of the post.

South Antrim went 2-0 ahead following an uncharacteristic mistake by Down skipper, Jeremy McCready, which allowed Alan Hamilton to slide the ball under Down's advancing 'keeper, who just couldn't get enough on the ball to keep it out.

The goal-of-the-game came five minutes before the interval from Gavin Ringland who has had a brilliant season for Down in the middle of the park.

From the left hand side of the penalty area he unleashed a terrific reverse stick shot which flew into the top corner of the net. Brilliant.

With the interval approaching, Down were keen to go in just one goal in arrears, but they were hit by a killer blow with just over a minute to go until the break.

Aaron Minnis, who never gave George Glass a sniff of a chance all night, was harshly penalised for a challenge in his own penalty area and the umpire awarded a shot corner.

Drag flick specialist O'Neill stepped forward and his effort looked destined for the back of the net before it was saved by Down's keeper, David Telford, who was making his last appearance for the senior side.

He got his hand to the ball to palm it away, but cruelly for him the rebound fell at the feet of the unmarked Craig Campbell who made it 3-1. Gibson again went close at the other end, but it was South Antrim who were firmly in the driving seat at the interval.

It was hard work for Down who, if they had been at full strength, would have fancied their chances against the Lisburn side whom they defeated 6-3 on the plastic earlier in the season.

The locals wanted to make a positive start after the break but their hopes were dashed four minutes after the restart when poor marking from a right wing cross allowed McCandless to steer the ball past Telford from point-blank range.

To their credit, Down refused to throw in the towel and dominated the rest of game so much that South Antrim couldn't manage another shot on goal.

Stephen Ferguson, who had an outstanding game, drove Down forward again after the break and with five minutes to go, Gibson scored with a penalty stroke to make it 4-2.

Down tried to muster one last herculean effort, but South Antrim held on to claim the win and take their place in Senior One next season.

As for Down, it has been a superb effort from the senior squad who had one of the best defence records in Ulster hockey; no mean achievement. The Senior Two Cup came to Malone Park this season and there is certainly cause for optimism when the new season kicks off in September.