Mark Allen won a ranking event on British soil for the first time by beating Ricky Walden 10-6 in the final of the Ladbrokes Players Championship in Manchester.
Allen trailed 3-1 early on before winning six frames in row. He saw a 7-3 lead cut to 7-6 but was able to regroup and win the last three.
Northern Ireland’s 30-year-old Allen lands a £100,000 top prize, his biggest pay day, by capturing the third ranking title of his career, with the previous two coming at the Haikou World Open in China in 2012 and 2013.
In fact he had only previously played one ranking final in Britain, that was at the 2011 UK Championship when he lost to Judd Trump. He climbs to number six in the world, equalling his career best position.
Antrim’s Allen has shown a high level of consistency in recent months. In November he won the Bulgarian Open European Tour event and reached the final of the Champion of Champions, then last month he got to the semi-finals of the Welsh Open.
In fact in terms of performances he has been well below his best, but a combination of a gritty attitude and an ability to win a high percentage of scrappy frames have allowed him to flourish. At the end of last season, Allen insisted that being reunited with renowned coach Terry Griffiths would bring him silverware, and the influence of the former World Champion is obvious. Allen’s temperament may have been suspect in the past, but in recent months his composure at the table has been exemplary.
And his victory this week is all the more surprising given that he is playing with a damaged ferrule on his cue which will have to be repaired by cue doctor John Parris next week.
Chester’s 33-year-old Walden also missed out on a first ranking title in the UK having won his three previous crowns in China. The most recent of those came at the 2014 International Championship when he beat Allen 10-7 in the final, but this time the roles were reversed. Walden still earns £38,000 and climbs to ninth in the world.
Leading 6-3 after the first session, Allen soon extended his lead tonight as a break of 52 helped put him 7-3 up. But he scored just one point in the next two frames as Walden fired runs of 62 and 92. Frame 13 lasted 30 minutes and came down to the colours. Allen looked set to win it after trapping his opponent in a snooker on the last red, but he surprisingly missed the final brown with the rest when leading by 14 points and Walden capitalised to close to 7-6 at the interval.
Both players had chances in the 14th and when Walden missed a red to a top corner, Allen made a handy 38 which proved enough to out him 8-6 up. Walden had first chance in the next but missed a red to a baulk corner on 19. Allen replied with 61 and secured the frame by potting the last red to go three up with four to play.
A superb long red early in frame 16 set Allen up for a break of 67. Walden had one last glimmer but went in-off attempting a long pot, and when Allen potted a red to a centre pocket his elated fist pump signalled victory.
“It’s right up there with the best moments of my career,” said Allen after becoming the first player from Northern Ireland to win three ranking titles. “I have battled hard all week, stuck in there and given myself a chance. Ricky started well today then I won six in a row and got my confidence up. At 7-6 I was under it and in previous years I might have gone mentally and fallen apart. But even if it had gone 7-7 I was prepared for it. I won a big frame to go 8-6 ahead and got over the line in the end.
“The other day I said that it didn’t matter to me that I hadn’t won a big title in the UK before because I have won elsewhere in the world. But in fact it was always at the back of my mind and this is a monkey off my back.
“The key this week has been controlling myself mentally, even though I haven’t been playing that well. In the past I might have got frustrated but this week I have stayed focussed even when I’ve been sitting in my chair. I want to follow Mark Selby’s example because no matter how he is playing he always gives it everything.
“I have won two tournaments this season and I’m going the right way although there is still room to improve. Terry hasn’t been here this week and in fact I needed him at the interval when it was 7-6, but I’ve been talking to him a lot on the phone and I’m looking forward to working more with him. The World Championship is a marathon and you can’t afford not to be at your best there so I’ll need to be in peak form.”
Walden said: “I have played so well all week but I was scratching around today. A couple of frames got away from me in the first session and after that I couldn’t quite catch up. I was 6-3 down but I was only a couple of balls away from being 5-4 up. It was scrappy and he scrapped harder than me. He can play all kinds of snooker, he can scrap well and score well.
“When he missed the brown and I made a good clearance to go 7-6 I was back in it but I struggled to concentrate after that. I have been travelling back home all week and not sleeping that well, perhaps with the baby (six month old son Percy), so I was tired towards the end and not sharp enough.
“It’s raw at the moment because I hate losing so much. But I’m pleased to have my game in good shape and I can’t wait for the World Championship.”