Mark Allen got the better of an exciting final frame to beat John Higgins 6-5 in the first round of the Dafabet Masters at Alexandra Palace.
Four-time World Champion Higgins was left to rue crucial misses in the last frame which allowed his opponent to edge through to a quarter-final clash with Judd Trump or Marco Fu on Thursday evening (tickets still available, click here for details).
Scotland’s Higgins has a mixed record at the Masters – he won it in 1999 and 2006 but has now suffered 12 first round exits. Antrim’s Allen now has the chance to reach the semi-finals for the third time having lost at that stage in 2011 and 2015.
Higgins won a scrappy opening frame then made a 111 in the second to lead 2-0. World number ten Allen hit back to take the next two frames with a top break of 51. The next four frames were also shared – Allen making the better breaks with 81 and 104 in the sixth and seventh.
Allen was on 67 in frame nine when he missed the blue to a centre pocket, letting Higgins in to make a 67 clearance to force a repotted black. After a safety exchange, Allen converted a superb long range pot into a top corner to go 5-4 ahead. Higgins responded with a run of 77 in the next to set up the decider.
First chance went to Higgins and he made 30 before missing a red to a top corner. Nerves took hold as both players passed up opportunities, Higgins missing the yellow to a baulk corner and the black off its spot when he led 32-19. The third of those errors was vital as Allen compiled a run of 44 which proved enough for victory, as Higgins was unable to get the snookers he needed on the colours.
“I was just glad John missed the black in the last frame as that gave me another chance, and I took it well,” said 30-year-old Allen. “It was very tense in the last. I noticed John shaking quite a bit. Him missing the black off the spot was unexpected – but not so much to me.
“It shows how much it means to John considering what he’s done in the game. It was just one of those matches you didn’t want to lose. One thing I have always had is bottle.
“I’m not playing that great. I played ok in spells there. My safety was good today, I was very impressed with my safety. So if I can keep doing that and find a bit of rhythm in the balls, I can battle hard and never give up. That’s one of my best attributes. It’ll stand me in good stead when I find that good form I’m looking for.
“If you don’t play well here, you’re going home. I think I like to think that I can raise my game against the very best players in the world.”
Allen was also asked about a gesture at the end of the ninth frame when he raised his hand to his ear, towards the crowd, after potting the respotted black.
“It was just a bit of fun,” said the Ulsterman. “I enjoyed the pot on the black, I think it was the first time since 2004 I’ve potted a long ball. There was absolutely no malice towards John. It was great that he did it at the end of the next frame as well and I think that was the spirit the game was played in.”
Higgins said: “I thought I got a kick on the black (in the last frame) when I was playing it into the reds. It bounced, but obviously it’s a bad miss and it’s the miss that cost me the game. I had a good chance at the start then I missed a bad red. I’ve got no complaints. I missed the clutch balls at the end and if you do that, you don’t win.”