Down’s senior side lost its opening game of the Senior 2 season on a pitch which has become something of a fortress over the years.

Sides have struggled to cope with the shale surface at Malone Park, with Down's first and second eleven's rarely losing. But that appears to be changing and it's an issue which the home players will want to address.

Incredibly, Down were forced to start with just 10 men and were a goal behind after just 54 seconds when the entire home defence froze and Ballymena's Andy Lorimer couldn’t believe his luck as he had all the time in the world to score.

The home side played the entire first half a man short but, to their credit, they created a number of chances which they could not convert. Over the 70 minutes, Down perhaps created the greater chances but couldn’t score and even missed a penalty stroke with the normally reliable Mark Elliott failing to hit the target.

After the first minute set back, Down tried to get a grip in the middle of the park through Sinclair White and Gary Brown, with the latter winning an early short corer which resulted in White dragging his shot past the wrong side of the post.

Mark Graham drilled a superb ball into the heart of the Ballymena penalty area but no one could get on the end of it when all was required was deft touch to deflect it past the ‘keeper into the net.

Ballymena's Lorimer saw a crisp shot saved by Down ‘keeper David Moreland in the 23rd minute, before the impressive Gavin Ringland intercepted a cross destined for Bell who would only have had the ‘keeper to beat if the ball had found its way to him.

Philip Brown, who was busy all day at full-back, thwarted numerous Ballymena attacks and ensured Davy McDonald didn’t ghost in on his blind side in the 26th minute. James Ferguson had another impressive game for Down while Ryan Swail toiled up front on his own at times.

Tim Lowry was about to pull the trigger in the 33rd minute but with goal at his mercy Ringland produced a great tackle to win back possession and square the ball to White who almost picked out Graham.

Ballymena were keen to increase their advantage before the break and in the final action of the half Lowry again escaped his marker, but Liam Kearney was alert to the danger and cleared the ball.

Down, who started the second period with 11 men, played much better, with Gary Brown and White getting through a tremendous amount of work in the middle of the park.

Elliott produced the pass of the day to free White within a minute of the restart but just as the big man was about to power his way into the penalty area, Ballymena skipper Bell cleared the danger.

The home side had it’s tail up and while play became congested in the middle of the park, it was all to play for. Alasdair Duff, who had a terrific game for Down, not only broke up Ballymena attacks, but looked to get forward at every opportunity.

A brilliant run by Swail which took him past a number of defenders saw the teenager weave his way into the penalty area but his pass to Elliott was just a trifle a short. A little more pace on the ball would have surely led to the goal, but Swail’s swashbuckling run was greatly appreciated by his team mates and spectators alike.

White and Elliott then combined with the latter unlucky not to make it 1-1 when his clever deflection, which left the Ballymena ‘keeper flat-footed, flashing wide. An inch the other way and the ball would have nestled in the back of the net.

White, who it seemed was everywhere, combined with Ringland to create another chance for Elliott who was robbed of possession as he was about to shoot, before White pulled his thundering shot from a short corner past the wrong side of the post.

That man White then fired a cross towards Elliott in the 52nd minute with the latter’s control letting him down at the last moment, before another White cross was hacked clear by Bell.

Moreland kicked clear from Lorimer with 13 minutes to go before Davy McDonald scored to give Ballymena a 2-1 lead. Within seconds, the home side was awarded a penalty stroke after Elliott was impeded by the ‘keeper.

The Down striker took responsibility from the spot and while he put the ‘keeper the wrong way, he also pulled the ball wide of the post. Most uncharacteristic from one of the league’s most consistent finishers.

Ballymena were awarded a short corner in the dying seconds of the game and from the resultant set piece, Chris Hogg drilled the ball into the corner of the net to seal his side's 3-0 lead.