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Pistol Fires To Reach Semis

Northern Ireland’s number one Mark Allen battled from 3-0 down to beat defending champion Judd Trump 5-3 and reach the semi-finals of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open.

It’s the first time 2018 Masters champion Allen has reached the semi-finals in his home event here in Belfast. Apart from a trip to the quarters in 2016, the Pistol has failed to go beyond the last 16 in this tournament. The Antrim cueman, who has won five ranking titles, has openly admitted to suffering from the pressure of a home crowd previously.

This afternoon’s result ends a run of nearly four years without losing a match in this event for 2019 World Champion Trump. He racked up 25 consecutive match wins in the Northern Ireland Open and picked up the title three years on the bounce, beating Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-7 in the final each time.

It had looked as if Trump was set to make it 26 match wins in a row this afternoon. He charged to a 3-0 lead, making breaks of 100 and 91 along the way.

Trump then had a chance to make it 4-0, but failed to convert the frame and Allen summoned a crucial clearance of 41 to take it on the black and establish a foothold at 3-1.

When play resumed Trump composed a break of 61 in the fifth. However, Allen worked his way back into the frame and a clearance from the green saw him steal a second consecutive frame on the black to make it 3-2.

Allen then restored parity, before moving one from the win with a fine break of 128, which made it 4-3. The eighth frame came down to a battle on the colours. Allen eventually got Trump in a decisive snooker on the brown and cleared from a resultant free ball to seal a significant win. He’ll face Ricky Walden in the last four tomorrow over the best of 11 frames.

“From 3-0 down and out of the game to 3-2, all of a sudden I started feeling really calm and good in my game,” said 35-year-old Allen.

“Everyone is susceptible to nerves, whether you are Ronnie who has won six world titles or Judd who is a winning machine at the moment. I don’t care what anyone says, when it comes to closing out a match you are nervous. I felt there were mistakes from Judd that don’t normally happen. I don’t know whether that was me, the atmosphere, the table or how he was feeling. It is up to the other person to capitalise and I felt like I did that towards the end.

“With only four players remaining tomorrow it is a big opportunity, but I don’t want to put any more pressure on myself than is already there. I do enough of that. I am just going to try to enjoy the experience. Normally I am watching on TV come the weekend and everyone is telling me how good the Waterfront atmosphere is. It will be nice to be a part of it.”

Walden is through to his first ranking event semi-final in five years after coming from behind to beat 2005 World Champion Shaun Murphy 5-4.

Walden last graced the semis of a ranking event in 2016 at the China Open. In the years that followed he suffered from severe back problems. However, cortisone injections and physiotherapy since then have led him back to full fitness.

Murphy had established a 3-1 lead this afternoon. However, a sparkling run of snooker from Walden saw him turn the match on its head. Breaks of 98, 84, 70 and 91 helped him to take four of the next five frames and run out the victor.