Down’s senior side got a taste of what to expect in Senior One next season when they were defeated by Armagh last weekend.

The home side, currently riding high at the top of Senior Two, are still favourites to go up, but they will have to up their game if they are to avoid coming straight back down again.

Last weekend's eagerly-anticipated clash ended in controversy after a late Down "equaliser" was initially allowed to stand, before being disallowed, much to the annoyance of the home players.

Down played poorly and it seemed not everyone was up for the game. That said, Armagh, who were beaten by Crossgar at Malone Park earlier in the season, are now a much better outfit.

They were also fitter and more sharper than Down and pushed Howard Quinn high up the pitch in a bid to prevent the home side from dominating the middle of the park. The tactic worked.

Down missed Chris Taylor in midfield, but if they are to realise their title ambitions and establish themselves in Senior One, they will have to be able to adapt to the loss of key players.

A good start was important for the home side and while Stephen Ferguson's probing run and powerful cross looked to create an early opportunity, no one could get on the end of his cross to steer the ball home.

Armagh concentrated the majority of their play along the right wing and Down's players were struggling to cope. Erskine cleared an early attack, but the visitors kept probing and took the lead in the second minute.

A long ball picked out the experienced Quinn who side-stepped Aaron Minnis before drilling the ball past Mark Johnston for the opening goal.

To their credit, Down didn't press the panic button and kept plugging away, but it was Armagh who had the upper hand. Skipper McCready made two timely interventions to keep Armagh at bay, while Johnston saved well from Quinn.

At the other end, Paul Tate, who later picked up a nasty injury, fired wide with just the 'keeper to beat after being set up by Ferguson.

Quinn was causing all sorts of problems for the Down defence, pulling defenders wide to allow his team mates to exploit the space in behind. A Ferguson shot was then palmed away, but the umpire chose not to award a short corner.

He did award one in the 12th minute from which Down drew level after Mark Elliott had been impeded in the penalty area. From the set piece, the ball was stopped by Gavin Ringland whose blistering shot flew past the 'keeper before he had time to move.

The game had a real cup-tie feel about it and Quinn was then guilty of missing a clear-cut opportunity. A mistake by Erskine then allowed Quinn another chance but his shot was off-target. Ferguson again went close while at the other end, Alasdair Duff and Minnis had to have their wits about them, clearing several Armagh attacks.

Down were awarded their second short corner of the game in the 27th minute but Gibson was denied before the visitors took the lead after they were awarded a controversial short corner.

Skipper McCready was penalised by the umpire for controlling the ball with his foot in his own penalty area when it clearly struck his stick. Down's umpire was unsighted, but got no help from his colleague who had a clear view of exactly what happened. As so often happens, Armagh scored from the resultant set-piece to take a 2-1 interval lead.

Armagh nearly went 3-1 ahead with their first attack of the second half, but Quinn was again off target. It was all one-way traffic at this stage with the visitors awarded a number of short corners which Johnston saved.

Down were struggling to find any rhythm at this stage; they lost the battle in the middle of the park and Ferguson was forced to play deeper in a bid to get into the game. The home side was also guilty of surrendering possession too easily and this is something they must work on before the return trip to Armagh at the end of the month.

And Down were also furious Armagh were awarded a short corner which led to their third goal. The umpire ruled the ball flew up in the penalty area off Johnston's kicker, but the home players pointed out the ball had in fact struck an Armagh forward's foot. Again from the resultant set piece, Armagh scored to take a 3-1 lead.

With nothing to lose, Down threw caution to the wind and started playing better. McCready pushed forward to add some much-needed bite to the  attack. Gibson looked to set to make it 3-2, but his goal-bound shot was cleared off the line and then Ferguson's shot flashed past the wrong side of the post.

McCready gave his side some hope when he collected a rebound from a Gibson shot to rifle the ball into the net. Armagh were on the back foot at this stage, although they did have two clear cut chances from breakaways to put the game out of sight.

Down piled men forward and with four minutes to go, thought they had scored a deserved equaliser. The ball appeared to strike an Armagh player on the foot in his own penalty area before also striking a Down player on the foot. The umpire played an advantage and Elliott "scored" against his former club. But the umpire in the other half consulted with his colleague before disallowing the goal, much to the annoyance of the home side.

Johnston then made a point-blank save from Quinn and while Down tried to force an equaliser, they ran out of time.

This Saturday Down face Saintfield at home and if they can steal a point away to Armagh on March 31, the title is still there for the taking. What they have to do over the coming weeks of the season is guard against complacency.