Deer Park is still the real deal in the Bowls Victoria premier division, despite a hiccup on its home green against contenders Clayton at Ballarat Road on Saturday.

The Lions let it slip late in a nail-biting 68 (14)-63 (4) loss.

While Lions president Neil Cromie conceded it was a costly defeat, he remains unwavering in his belief that his side is a threat to the contenders in their second season in the top flight.

“Not that there’s any guarantees in sport, but [a win] today would’ve gone a long way to us setting ourselves up for a strong finish to the season,” he said.

“It means we’ve just got to fight harder now.

“I’m obviously biased, but I think we’re good enough to play finals this season.

“On performances at this stage of the season, we’d deserve to play finals.”

It was a game that had you on the edge of your seat throughout.

Deer Park held a slender lead late on, but Clayton refused to yield and finished the stronger.

“It was tight all day,” Cromie said.

“We got a couple in front and we looked like we were getting the better of them, but they fought back.

“It came down to virtually the last three rinks playing their last ends. To their credit, they fought it out and unfortunately for us, they were in front at the business end.”

Brett Mahoney and Aaron Wood both enjoyed eight-shot victories. Mahoney was victorious 21-13, while Wood scored a 20-12 win. It was not enough to paper over the cracks in the other two rinks.

James Pearce was on the wrong end of an 18-12 scoreline, while Chris Ball lost 25-10.

It will not get any easier for Deer Park next start. The Lions will face ladder leader Essendon away on Saturday.

Cromie sees the game as an opportunity for his team to evaluate itself against another strong opponent.

“It’ll be a hell of a game next Saturday,” Cromie said. “They’re the benchmark at the moment and we’ll see how good we are when we play them.”