The race for the Senior Two title race is wide open again.

Down lost their unbeaten record since the season began when they crashed 4-1 at Ballycastle last weekend. While bitterly disappointed with the result, the locals were also gutted they reserved their worst performance so far for this most important league clash.

With Saintfield winning in Omagh, the Demesne outfit sit proudly at the top of Senior Two, but with a double header against Down to come later in the season and the Malone Park outfit still to face Portrush at home, it's too early to say who'll be champions.

Down went into last weekend's clash missing three of the regular back four and their absence proved crucial. The loss of Jeremy McCready, Alasdair Duff and Aaron Minnis was a major blow and one Portrush exploited to the full.

For some unknown reason, Down abandoned their normal passing game and relied on long passes, which played into the hands of the home side which couldn't believe it was given such an easy test.

Down, who were forced to play Paul Neill and Stephen Ferguson in defence, were sluggish out of the blocks and were made to pay when Wallace McKeemin fired his side into the lead after Mark Johnston had made a double save.

Bad marking allowed the home side to make it 2-0 midway through the first half and while Down tried to create openings through Ashley Gibson and Mark Elliott, neither could provide the spark in front of goal.

Two goals in arrears at the interval was not the scenario the visitors envisaged when the game got underway and while they were determined to get themselves back into the game in the second period, they again uncharacteristically misfired.

Portrush could not believe it when they went 3-0 ahead and Down's title challenge looked in tatters as they struggled to pass to each other. They were weak in the middle of the park and couldn't provide any ammunition for the strikers ahead of them.

The only consolation for the visitors was that they scored the goal of the game.

Ferguson picked the ball up on his 25-yard line and ran the length of the field, past eight Portrush players before unleashing a powerful shot which saw the ball almost take the goalkeeper into the back of the net with it.

But the goal failed to provide a push in the final quarter and while caught with men committed in an attack, Portrush caught Down cold with just minutes to go. The home side were awarded a short corner which saw the ball drilled past Johnston.

Down have no game this weekend and won't be back in action until December 30 when they face Larne away from home. It was the result following this fixture last year which cost Down the title.

Ironically, they must now win this year's encounter and ensure they see off Portrush and Saintfield during the title run-in to make sure they secure promotion to Senior One next season.