The scoreline may suggest a comprehensive victory for title-chasers Down, but it was anything but.

The Malone Park side gave a below-par performance against a Crossgar outfit ravaged by injury and cry-offs and which took the lead in the first half of a game where Down struggled and clearly missed the influential Stephen Ferguson.

It could be argued that with the title almost within their grasp, results are more important than performances as far as Down are concerned at this stage of the season. What is certain is that if they produce another lacklustre display this weekend against a rejuvenated Parkview side, they may not end up with all three points.

As so often happens against Crossgar, Down struggled and for the opening 15 minutes, were careless in defence and shoddy in midfield where nothing came together.

Chris Taylor was pushed out wide when he could possibly have been more destructive running at Crossgar through the middle of the park, while Ashley Gibson and Mark Elliott were starved of service early on.

Down appeared nervous, while Crossgar displayed their usual up and at them style which caused the home side problems. They looked shaky at times and while they can rightly point to the the three points they collected in the end, they can also point to a poor performance which must be improved this Saturday.

With Saintfield not playing, last weekend's win gives Down a five point lead at the top of the table. The intention is to stay there and everyone at the club will be looking for a strong performance to see off Parkview this Saturday.

Last Saturday's crunch league tie game started with Down losing possession. The very impressive Conor Ferguson robbed Jeremy McCready, but a covering tackle by Alasdair Duff avoided any danger before Julian Spratt could pounce.

Spratt then found himself defending at the other end when he broke an attack started by Down's Chris Lennon and Gavin Ringland. Play was scrappy at this stage, but Down were awarded their first short corner of the game in the third minute when Gibson's goal-bound shot was saved by Alastair Patterson who had an outstanding game.

Nigel Jackson, who was given too much room at the back, then cleared an attack started by Duff, while a Crossgar free won by Ferguson on the edge of the Down penalty area resulted in a free hit being driven harmlessly wide.

Ringland was then caught napping by Ferguson who powered his way into the penalty area, but his shot didn't trouble Mark Johnston in the Down goal. Two minutes later, the visitors were awarded their first short corner, but failed to get a strike in on goal.

Crossgar were on top at this stage and took the lead in the 12th minute, with the Down defenders guilty of ball watching. The hard-working Paul Fenton won a short corner and while the visitors failed to get an initial shot in on goal, when the ball was drilled to the back post, Crossgar skipper, Gary Tate, who was unmarked, flicked the ball past Johnston.

The goal was the kick up the backside Down needed and by the interval, they had roared back to lead 2-1. Gibson was denied by Patterson in the 20th minute and the Crossgar 'keeper then kept out a close range effort from Elliott.

The visitors were being forced to defend in increasing numbers at this stage before Gibson drilled home a short corner to level the scores in the 28th minute. Patterson then produced another fine stop to deny Paul Tate when he stuck out a hand to deflect a shot which looked destined for the top corner of the net.

Two minutes before the interval, Down took the lead for the first time in the game when Gibson again powered a short corner strike towards goal. His shot was blocked by Patterson, but Elliott reacted quickest to steer the ball over the line.

Crossgar were awarded a short corner in the dying seconds of the half, but Nigel Jackson was denied when Paul Tate cleared his goal-bound shot off the line.

Down were determined to play with more fluidity in the second period, but the final pass was sometimes poor, especially when players were in goalscoring positions.

Ringland tested Patterson in the 37th minute and then Duff was unlucky to see his shot strike the base of the post and rebound to safety. Ringland then had a glorious chance to make it 3-1 in the 32nd minute. He found himself with space at the top of the circle to pick his spot, but somehow blasted the ball wide.

Tate was denied by Jackson and then Gibson saw a shot fly narrowly wide and while Crossgar tried to create problems for the Down defence, they lacked penetration up front.

Down eventually went 3-1 ahead in the 52nd minute. Paul Neill flew down the wing and crossed for Elliott, who kept his nerve surrounded by defenders, to flick the ball past Patterson with a reverse stick shot.

Eight minutes later, Down sealed the win and a very precious three points. Elliott danced past two defenders on the right wing before driving into the penalty area where he unselfishly squared the ball to Gibson who couldn't miss from close range.

Crossgar threw men forward in the closing stages, but Fenton was denied by a Johnny Lennon tackle before Taylor was left holding his head in his hands at the other end when again denied by Patterson.

With five minutes to go, Julian Spratt saw his shot strike the post and rebound clear while a minute later, Johnston denied Fenton with a smart save. The visitors were awarded a short corner in the closing stages, but couldn't get a shot in on goal.

This weekend Down face Parkview, who recently added several former East Antrim players to their squad, and nothing short of a win will do. With Saintfield and Portrush still to visit Malone Park, Down know the title is their own hands and only they can throw it away.