DOWNTON have slipped from first to third in the Sydenhams Premier League, after being forced to replay two games for fielding an ineligible player.

Matt Gurd was registered with the Wyvern Combination but not with the Sydenhams League, and he went on for the last seven minutes of the 3-2 win over Alton Town on December 15, even scoring an own goal.

He then played for just 30 seconds at the end of the 3-1 win over title rivals Christchurch three days later. The Robins were five points clear at the top but are now a point behind both Christchurch and Alresford Town, with the latter having played two games more.

Bemerton Heath Harlequins are now just three points behind them, but have played a game more.

“We are all deeply upset about it,” said manager Jeff Softley.

“The lads have worked so hard to get into this position. It was a genuine mistake because we all thought Matt was signed on.

“I'm pleased we can replay the games at least, because they could have awarded the points to our opponents. They will be hard games to win again though, because Alton are trying to stay up and Christchurch are one of the favourites.”

The League’s competition secretary John Gorman said: “It wasn’t done deliberately and there was no attempt by Downton to deceive or gain advantage but, at this level, you can’t play a player who isn’t signed on.

“Part of the problem is that Downton haven’t had a permanent secretary (since Mike Turner left), but they’ve just appointed Brian Ford from Laverstock & Ford.”

With their last four games in all competitions postponed due to the weather, Downton face a hectic end to the season, and will have to do it without influential winger Danny Urry who will be out for nine months to a year with a cruciate knee ligament injury.

“He's probably one of the best players I have managed and he lights up the changing room,” said Softley.

“Danny is a great lad to manage because he listens to everything. He is only 21 though, so he will be back.”