Down retained top spot in Senior Two with a hard-earned derby win over rivals Crossgar at Malone Park.

The home side maintained its five goals-a-game average for the season, taking its tally to 40 after just eight league games. But Down did not have things their own way.

Crossgar played some of their best hockey of the season, exposing Down's three-man defensive system in the first half, with Mervyn Patterson and Conor Ferguson causing all sorts of problems.

Down hit five goals past Crossgar three weeks ago and the home side could have scored several more last weekend, had it not been for the performance of Crossgar 'keeper, Alastair Patterson.

He made a number of timely saves, including a short corner pile driver from Sinclair White in the first half. He also thwarted Paul Tate, Ashley Gibson and Mark Elliott.

While Down were missing Aaron Minnis and Chris Lennon, Crossgar went into the game missing Julian Spratt and Philip Cheevers. The visitors opted to start with Stephen Tate and Ferguson up front and they looked lively in the opening exchanges as Down struggled to find any sort of rhythm.

Gary Tate, Gary Donaldson, Trevor Jackson and Nigel Patterson formed a solid barrier in the visitor's defence and Down found it hard to break them down.

The game was evenly matched for the opening 15 minutes before Down got their noses in front when a cross from the left was drilled past Patterson by Ashley Gibson.

Two minutes later the game should have been over as a contest. Elliott was about to push the ball into an empty net after good build-up play involving Gibson and Tate, but the danger was cleared by Jackson.

While Down had the lead, they were far from convincing during this period in the game and some sloppy play, which saw them needlessly give the ball away just inside the Crossgar half, allowed the visitors to mount an attack.

Within seconds they had been awarded a penalty corner from which Nigel Jackson scored. His shot was not on target and would have flow harmlessly past the post had it not struck Alasdair Duff's stick and deflected into the net.

Predictably, Crossgar had their tails up at this stage of the game and thought they had taken the lead from another short corner just two minutes later. Jackson was again the marksman, but the ball did strike his instep before he unleashed his shot.

The visitors were unhappy with the decision, but the umpire did spot the infringement and signalled a free out within a split second of the ball hitting the backboard.

The incident was the turning point in the game and five minutes later Down got their noses in front for the second time in the match when Paul Tate was in the right place at the right time.

Down effectively sealed the game in the first minute of the second half. A spectacular run by Tate, which took from the right hand side of the pitch to the opposite flank and then into the penalty area, saw him exchange passes with Elliott, before he cheekily reverse-sticked the ball past Patterson.

Two minutes later, Tate was left holding his head in his hands when another mazy run and ferocious shot saw the ball crash against the base of the post and rebound to safety, denying him what would have been a well deserved hat-trick.

The hardworking Gibson was then rewarded for his efforts after superb link-up play in the 55th minute allowed him to make it 4-0 after good work by White. It was all one-way traffic at this stage and a yellow-card handed out to Gary Tate did not help his side's cause.

With just under eight minutes to go, Down scored their fifth goal of the game from the penalty spot. A flick was awarded after Nigel Jackson kicked a goalbound shot off the line. Elliott stepped forward and while Patterson made a great attempt to get to the ball, it squeezed past him.

Down have this Saturday off before facing East Antrim on New YearÕs Eve and they will need to up the tempo, particularly in the opening period where they have somehow struggled this season.

As for Crossgar, they entertain Larne at Malone Park on December 31 and will be hoping to pick up maximum points against a side bottom of the league.