Ballyhaninch and Down served up a five-goal thriller in this Senior One relegation battle last weekend, with the home side battling back from going behind to win.

The vital three points Ballynahinch picked up puts them three ahead of their derby rivals who were shocked to learn that fellow strugglers Cliftonville, defeated Portadown. The Belfast side are now four points ahead of Down and, significantly, have two games in hand.

Given last weekend's results, Ballynahinch have crucial breathing space at the foot of the table and must now be favourites to retain their senior status. Mark Graham and Alex Millar were Ballynahinch's scoring heroes, but the contribution of their experienced goalkeeper, Mark Brown, was also decisive in the closing minutes.

He made a number of terrific saves to deny Sinclair White and Paul Tate and while Ballynahinch were rightly jubilant at the end, Down will be anxious over the remainder of the season. Quite simply last weekend, not enough of their big-game players performed when it mattered. Tactically, they were naive at times; they gave away possession too cheaply and when chasing the game in the closing stages, they inexplicably allowed Ballynahinch to defend too high up the pitch.

Down lacked bite in the middle of the park and while they can point to the absence of Aaron Minnis and Chris Taylor, Ballynahinch were simply too good, particularly in the second half when their inspirational skipper, Jeremy Rea, drove his side to victory and was the clear winner of the man-of-the-match award.

Ballynahinch fielded teenagers Millar, Ashley Brown and David Ross and if they continue to mature, they will be mainstays of the club for years to come. By contrast, Down have no up and coming teenage stars apart from Adam McKee. They need an injection of youth if they are to rebuild for the future, but surely the number one priority must be an experienced coach.

Down have the players to survive in Senior One, but they could run out of games. Too often this season, Down have played well in games, but taken nothing from them. They can still pick up points and must hope others around them drop some, otherwise the Malone Park men will be unable to escape the slippery slope to Senior Two - somewhere they don't want to be.

Ballynahinch meanwhile can look forward to the games that lie ahead and while their skipper will guard against complacency, he knows last weekend's win is a massive confidence booster and one that eases a lot of pressure over the coming weeks. Last Saturday, Ballynahinch took their chances and Down didn't. And how often have the Malone Park men bemoaned that fact this season?

Not surprisingly, both sides were cagey during the opening period, with Down's Mark Elliott failing to get on the end of a pass from Lennon after he was set up by Sinclair White. James Erskine, who never gave Philip Murray a sniff all afternoon, also mopped up well before he had to halt a dangerous move when Millar and David Marshall combined on the right wing in the fourth minute.

Stephen Ferguson, who had a quiet afternoon by his standards, was robbed of a goalscoring opportunity by Gary Graham who dropped back to cover the Down player's run into the Ballynahinch penalty area in the sixth minute. Seconds later, Mark Brown made the first in a series of saves when he blocked Elliott's shot.

The experienced Lawrence Patterson, who must have been surprised he wasn't pressurised all afternoon, was in the right place at the right time to clear his lines with Down's Tate waiting to pounce. McKee then lost possession when pressed in the middle of the park and when the ball was drilled towards the Down goal, Gary Graham fired wide when he really should have hit the target.

Down skipper, Jeremy McCready, had to clear his lines in 12th minute with Millar hovering over his shoulder and Mark Graham's shot then hit the wrong side of the sideboard.

Brown then denied Tate at the other end and when Ross slipped the ball to Murray, Erskine was again at his heels, sweeping the ball to safety. Ross, who worked his way to the by-line, flashed the ball across the penalty area, but none of his team mates anticipated the cross and the chance was gone. It was end-to-end stuff at this stage, with Marshall forced to clear to deny White.

Ballynahinch were awarded their first short corner in the 19th minute with the ball worked to Ross via Rea, but the teenager's cross evaded Murray, while a minute later, Tate's flicked effort at the other end was saved by Brown.

McCready then denied Gary Graham before Tate went close with a half-chance in the 23rd minute from Down's first long corner of the game. With the interval approaching, both sides were keen to hold the advantage going into the break. Erskine denied Murray a shooting chance, while Brown again cleared from Tate.

At the break, the feeling was that it was one of those games that could be decided by a single goal. But no one could have predicted the five-goal thriller the second half produced.

Down started the brighter after the break and Gavin Ringland won a short corner in the 36th minute. White stepped forward for the set piece, but his shot was saved, but less than a minute later, he opened the scoring from a short corner with a flicked effort into the corner past Brown whose view looked to be obscured by Elliott.

The goal should have been the launch-pad for Down to keep things tight. But they failed to mark men in the middle of the park and they allowed Ballynahinch to press them too high up the pitch. No one reacted to what was happening to drag Patterson and Ashley Brown back towards their own goal.

Gary Graham's stick tackle on Elliott saw Down awarded another penalty corner in the 40th minute, but Brown got down to his right to deny White. The 'keeper then made a mess of a kicked clearance with the ball getting trapped between his kickers, but he managed to clear it with Elliott waiting for any slip-ups.

McCready kept his side in the game in the 43rd minute when he cleared the ball with Millar again lurking before Brown produced a magnificent save to deny Tate. Murray had the ball in the Down net in the 44th minute, but the umpire's whistle has sounded loudly before he had a shot.

Ballynahinch were back level in the 49th minute after Down's James Cunningham lost possession on the Ballynahinch 25-yard line. The ball was swept to substitute Ross McGawl and he supplied the killer pass which opened the Down defence like a tin of sardines and the unmarked Mark Graham slipped the ball past Johnston. Game on.

The goal injected new life into the home side and Millar was denied by Duff just as he was about to pull the trigger but three minutes later, Mark Graham got his second goal of the game when he deflected the ball past Johnston at his near post. The Down 'keeper had been moving to his right, but Graham's deflection took the ball the opposite way into the net.

Six minutes after drawing level, Ballynahinch led 3-1 when Millar's non-stop running was rewarded when the ball was slipped to him on the right hand side of the penalty area by Marshall and there was only going to be one outcome when he drove the ball across Johnston into the net.

Down threw men forward in a bid to salvage something from the game. But 'keeper Brown stood tall and denied White and Tate from set pieces.

Ballynahinch continued to push up, but Down failed to press them back. With 12 minutes to go, Down made it 3-2 to set up a pulsating finale when Tate scored from the spot after Ferguson's goal-bound shot struck Colin McKibbin. McCready then denied Millar and while Down were awarded two late penalty corners, they failed to produce anything. A flicked effort by Tate was saved by Brown, while Ringland fired wide with what was the last action of the game.