Can Allen emulate fellow Northern Irish icon Higgins by winning world title?

There was something strikingly familiar about it all. A popular, mercurial and outrageously talented Northern Irish crowd-pleaser, cradling his daughter and trophy before a raucous, animated and riveted audience, splendidly celebrating the most emotional victory of his career with the name of Higgins again a pivotal part of the narrative.

Mark Allen’s enthralling and wildly undulating 9-8 victory over the four-times world champion John Higgins in the final of the Northern Ireland Open at the magnificent Waterfront Hall in Belfast on Sunday evening invoked the spirit of his fabled compatriot Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins by claiming first prize amid some uniquely manic goings on.

All at once, it brought back some stirring memories of the Hurricane conquering the Crucible in 1982.

Northern Ireland Open

‘One of the all-time greats’ – Allen pays tribute to Higgins after Northern Ireland Open win

8 HOURS AGO

When Higgins – the ultimate working class hero from Sandy Row in Belfast – finished off Ray Reardon 18-15 with a hectic break of 135 in the final frame in Sheffield 39 years ago, he famously held his baby daughter Lauren and his second world title in perfect harmony.

The likeable and loquacious Allen warmly clasped his daughter Harleigh alongside the Alex Higgins Trophy, a title fittingly named after the celebrated ‘People’s Champion’ as a tribute to his hall of fame achievement, popularity and contribution to the growth of snooker during the advent of the professional game’s televised boom of the 1980s.

‘Pioneering moment’

The Antrim man – nicknamed ‘The Pistol’ since he turned professional in 2005 – achieved a pioneering moment for Northern Irish snooker even by modern day standards in shooting for the stars.

Despite such moments of sporting folklore, Alex Higgins never managed to achieve such a rousing ranking tournament success in his home city of Belfast during his rampaging 26-year career that saw him lift the Irish Masters with a 9-8 victory over Stephen Hendry at Goffs across the border in 1989.

Neither did the 1985 world champion Dennis Taylor, who completed several wins over the Hurricane at the gone but not forgotten Irish Professional Championship in Belfast.

“I can’t actually believe it,” said Allen. “I really wanted to play John because, especially here in front of my home fans, he is one of the all-time greats.

“It’s just a pleasure to play against him and any win against John is a big win. To do it here is a dream come true for me.

I have tried to play it down all week, but I know what this means to me, and I know what it means to the people here, so to win this trophy is a special moment that I will never forget.

Just like the Hurricane, a true sporting hell-raiser, in his pomp, the locals were hooked on every stroke and run of the ball at the Waterfront Hall when all looked lost for their local idol in trailing 8-6 from 6-5 clear and appearing to be down and out as Higgins bobbed and weaved his way majestically to 4-4 with one of the most splendid 48 clearances you will witness.

‘He’s done it the hard way’ – O’Sullivan praises Allen after Northern Ireland Open win

Just like the Hurricane’s understated ability to mix up attacking instinct with thoughtful tactical adroitness, Allen chipped away at his opponent with some inspired matchplay combat. He dominated a scrappy 15th frame with Higgins appearing to stumble in his thought process at the key point after making breaks of 59, 64 and 136 to brilliantly assume control.

‘Downfall’

Two shots probably contributed to the rejuvenated Scotsman’s downfall. A missed black off the spot from a tough angle with white close to a side cushion leading 31-0 when a telling safety seemed the more logical shot choice in the 16th frame was key, enabling Allen to contribute 58 on his way to restoring parity at 8-8.

His decision to roll in a green in the death throes of the decider and go for a longish red that he butchered leading 28-27 was arguably another self-harming error. A snooker behind the green may have yielded more rewards at such a taut point of the contest with only three reds remaining and adding the pressure of opting against an obvious percentage shot.

Watch one of the greatest clearances in snooker history from Higgins

For Allen, it does not matter. All that counted in final analysis was showing the character and discipline to succeed where his teak tough opponent unusually faltered. For that reason alone, it was hard to dispute the point that Allen was not a worthy winner of an event that has tortured him over the years.

Astonishingly enough, Allen’s greatest performance until this week at the Northern Ireland Open was reaching the last 16 in 2019. For a player of such obvious natural ability and inimitable shot-making instinct, it is a record that is bewildering, but one that is matched by his shortcomings at the World Championship.

Allen’s most poignant run at the Crucible was reaching the semi-finals in 2009 when he lost 17-13 to John Higgins from 13-3 behind with quarter-final appearances in 2010, 2011 and 2018 other noteworthy but slightly disappointing highlights for a figure boasting such vitality.

‘Engaging technique’

There are similarities between the Hurricane and the maverick quality of Allen in having unusually short, sharp and engaging techniques, but also in coping with turmoil away from the baize.

Allen has suffered relationship break-ups, mental turmoil and declared himself bankrupt a few weeks after losing 13-7 to Mark Selby in the World Championship last 16 in May. Back in the day of the snooker craze, he would have made for classic tabloid fodder like Higgins, but he is still standing.

Judging by his efforts in Belfast, he is still potting too.

He started his campaign by compiling the 170th 147 maximum in snooker history and finished it with the title. He was 3-0 behind the world number one Judd Trump, but clawed his way back into the light with a 5-3 victory in the quarter-finals.

Like the Hurricane, Allen – a six-times ranking winner who is 11th on the all-time century list with 500 ton ups to his name – can be an unstoppable force when the mood takes him.

This is a bloke who once lifted the Scottish Open in 2018 while downing lager all week with a 9-7 final win over Shaun Murphy a week after losing 10-6 to Ronnie O’Sullivan in the UK Championship final with Eurosport analyst Jimmy White amusingly suggesting a few curers in the final session to improve his mood.

Perhaps he will be inspired by John Higgins’ ability to lose some weight in recent months to improve his own sense of well-being, but that is all down to personal choice.

Allen’s ability as a true snooker titan has never been in doubt having lifted the Masters in 2019 and the Champion of Champions trophy last season.

Making good on his early season and early career promise is the challenge.

‘Muscle memory’

Consistency of stroke and concentration rather than shot selection are attributes that have arguably eluded him and plenty of his peers over the years, but not in Belfast when it mattered most. Not when the Pistol was staring down the barrel.

“You would think over the years, that shots are always in your locker,” Allen once told me at the Crucible. “Maybe even through muscle memory.

I think snooker is the most mental game going, you’ve so much time alone with your thoughts. And that isn’t a good place to be.

“But it is easy to get on a roll. I sometimes have to remember that I’m a good player, and have done well in the game so far. Sometimes you have to go back to basics, and enjoy it for what it is.

“For too long, I was working on so much, and I would forget to hit the shot. I’m going to go out to do what I did as a younger player, be aggressive and see where it takes me.”

Watch clearance from ‘toughest yellow since Thorburn in ‘83’ as Allen shows huge ‘bottle’ in 147 bid

Snooker remains a game that can be mastered, but always only momentarily. Even by the game’s greats such as John Higgins. It is extending the moments you crave that matter.

“Mark will have one of the best memories of his life,” said a magnanimous Higgins after what was a sore defeat.

‘Mark will have one of the best memories of his life’ – Higgins pays tribute to Allen

Where Allen’s voyage goes from here, he will always remember the time when he won before his home crowd. The night when his dreams came true in Belfast in the autumn of 2021.

At the age of 35, in snooker terms at least, he is still in the summer of his dreams.

He may argue he would not swap the Northern Ireland Open triumph for anything, but he would. A world title is not beyond his grasp if he wants it badly enough.

Desmond Kane

How the Pistol fired to claim Belfast title

  • Round 1: 4-1 v Si Jiahui (Chn)
  • Round 2: 4-2 v Peter Devlin (Eng)
  • Round 3: 4-1 v Matthew Stevens (Wal)
  • Last 16: 4-3 v Stephen Maguire (Sco)
  • Quarter-final: 5-3 v Judd Trump (Eng)
  • Semi-final: 6-3 v Ricky Walden (Eng)
  • Final: 9-8 v John Higgins (Sco)

– – –

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Northern Ireland Open

‘He’s done it the hard way’ – O’Sullivan praises Allen after Northern Ireland Open win

8 HOURS AGO

Northern Ireland Open

O’Sullivan on Allen: ‘He’s found that perfect thing – consistency’

17 HOURS AGO

O’Sullivan on Allen: ‘He’s found that perfect thing – consistency’

Snooker

Ronnie O’Sullivan on Mark Allen: ‘He’s found that perfect thing – consistency’

Mark Allen made it to the final of his home event for the first time and he had major support at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. He opened up an early advantage and led for sizeable portions of the contest. John Higgins came on strong to take a lead but Allen won the final frame to land the Northern Ireland Open for the first time

00:00:59, an hour ago

‘I could just about stand!’ – Allen on surviving late crowd drama

Mark Allen admitted a late ruckus in the crowd was the last thing he needed after securing a maiden Northern Ireland Open title.

Allen was amongst the colours in his decider with John Higgins when a member of the audience appeared to leave, throwing him off his rhythm and forcing the referee to urge everyone to remain seated.

The 35-year-old steadied to pot the yellow, finishing with a flourish to pink as he completed a 9-8 comeback win on home soil.

Northern Ireland Open

‘I started to really panic!’ – Allen on triumph

14 MINUTES AGO

“It didn’t help that the guy was trying to leave when I was trying to pot the yellow,” admitted Allen to laughs from the remaining Waterford Hall crowd.

“I could just about stand up at that point. But I can’t actually believe it because from 6-5 up, I didn’t really see a ball until I was 8-6 down.”

Late crowd drama as Allen wins Northern Ireland Open

Allen also secured a £5000 bonus for the tournament’s highest break after making a 147 maximum in qualifying.

It was his first ranking title since the 2018 Scottish Open and an emotional one given the location.

“I’ll be honest, I was trying to not think about the crowd… I was trying to just take one ball at a time,” he said.

“But when I potted the red over the pocket to bring the last red out, I started to really panic.

I knew that they were all there [the colours] and all you can really do there is fall apart.

‘Mark will have one of the best memories of his life’ – Higgins pays tribute to Allen

He added: “I don’t usually get past round one here, it’s a real bonus!

“I’ve tried to play it down all week but I know what this means, what Northern Ireland snooker means to these people, and to keep this trophy here in Northern Ireland is a special, special moment I’ll never forget.”

Allen reserved special praise for his opponent, who had looked set to win after opening up an 8-6 advantage in the Belfast showdown.

“What a guy John Higgins is. I said last night I really wanted to play John,” continued Allen.

“Especially with the home fans, I wanted to play one of the all-time greats. John is right up there.

“He’ll not like me for saying this but he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever wish to meet. He just makes it so hard for you all the time.

Any win against John is a big win and to do it here is a dream come true for me.

– – –

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Northern Ireland Open

‘Mark will have one of the best memories of his life’ – Higgins pays tribute to Allen

16 MINUTES AGO

Northern Ireland Open

Late crowd drama as Allen wins Northern Ireland Open

29 MINUTES AGO

Allen claims thrilling final-frame victory over Higgins to win Northern Ireland Open

Mark Allen produced a brilliant burst to win the final three frames to beat John Higgins 9-8 in a thrilling final of the Northern Ireland Open.

Higgins produced a fine run of his own to seemingly take charge of the contest in Belfast, moving to the brink of victory at 8-6.

Allen had looked rocky under Higgins’ fine run, but he found reserves and roared on by his home fans, he produced three frames of excellent play under intense pressure to get his hands on the Alex Higgins Trophy for the first time.

Northern Ireland Open

‘He was walking away!’ – Outrageous fluke from Allen

2 HOURS AGO

Fans were starved of snooker in 2020, with the majority of events played behind closed doors, and the crowd at the Waterfront Hall lapped up the occasion.

They were treated to a final-frame shootout, which went to Allen as he landed the trophy he craved the most.

Allen could have been a little hungover following Higgins’ brilliant clearance to pinch the final frame of the first session, but he showed no signs of it as he knocked in a break of 70 to take the first frame of the evening.

Watch one of the greatest clearances in snooker history from Higgins

Frame 10 went to Higgins, who secured it via a calculated risk. On a break of 63, Higgins refused a pot at a red which was frame-ball, a decision which surprised Neal Foulds on commentary for Eurosport.

“I am absolutely amazed he did not have a go at that,” Foulds said. “Will he get a chance from here to win the frame?”

Higgins is a four-time world champion, and he clearly calculated on winning the safety battle. He thought correct as Allen coughed up an error, and the Scot stepped in to level.

The pair have often delivered tight encounters in their meetings, the most recent was a 6-5 win for Higgins at the 2021 Masters, and the crowd at the Waterfront Hall sensed something similar.

Allen hit back with an 85 to lead again, but Higgins drew level at 6-6 at the mid-session interval. Potting wows the crowds, but snooker fans also appreciate excellent safety. Higgins produced a shot of the highest order – going up and down the table off side and bottom cushion to nestle behind the yellow.

‘As good as it gets!’ – Allen sinks beauty in final

Allen’s hit-and-hope escape did not pay off, and Higgins cleared to the pink to level at the interval.

Higgins has no fear of long matches, and four hours into the contest he edged himself in front for the first time in the match.

A long red set up a break of 64 and it proved enough, as an Allen counter was stopped in its tracks by a missed black with the rest – which was not his first miss of the night with it.

Another error with the rest from Allen followed in the 14th frame, and it proved extremely costly. He got in with a fluke, but missed with the rest and Higgins stepped in with a superb clearance of 136. His cue-ball control was as good as at any time in the match, demonstrating he does not fear the pressure situations.

Allen refused to go down without a fight and took a cagey 15th frame. He secured it after a series of visits in which he kept potting reds but failing to drop on colours – only to put Higgins in trouble and keep picking off balls.

The fans craved a final frame, and they got what they wanted as referee Olivier Marteel struggled to keep a lid on the crowd.

Higgins had a chance, but missed a tough black and after a tense bout of safety that had the majority of the crowd playing every shot, Allen got the key pots to force a 17th frame.

‘Mark will have one of the best memories of his life’ – Higgins pays tribute to Allen

Higgins got in first in the decider, but took five and a half minutes to make 21. Ronnie O’Sullivan famously made a maximum in the same timeframe.

Chances came and went for both as the tension ramped up, but it was Allen who got the opening he craved. He produced an excellent shot to develop a red on the side cushion and it set him up to secure the title, as Belfast celebrated with their home favourite.

Northern Ireland Open

‘As good as it gets!’ – Allen sinks beauty in final

4 HOURS AGO

Northern Ireland Open

Do you agree with Ronnie O’Sullivan – is this the greatest snooker clearance ever?

6 HOURS AGO

Do you agree with Ronnie O’Sullivan – is this the greatest snooker clearance ever?

John Higgins produced a clearance for the ages during his Northern Ireland Open final against Mark Allen, with Ronnie O’Sullivan declaring it the best he has ever witnessed.

Trailing by 47 points in the final frame of the afternoon session – and with just 51 left on the table – Higgins began seven minutes of snooker perfection by arrowing a tricky red into the bottom right pocket.

With Allen likely needing one pot to take a 5-3 lead into Sunday’s concluding session in the best-of-17 encounter, Higgins pressed on into the colours in the knowledge that one miss would leave him with a mountain to climb.

Northern Ireland Open

‘Messi can maybe make the game look that easy’ – O’Sullivan wowed by Higgins

19 HOURS AGO

The pick of the bunch was the final brown into the left middle pocket after the Scot ran out of position, with the four-time world champion slamming it home and finishing perfectly on the blue.

“How do you stop this man,” cried Joe Johnson on Eurosport commentary.

Higgins then swept home the blue, pink and black to leave the final all square at 4-4.

The match concludes later on Sunday with Eurosport’s coverage resuming at 18:45 BST. Stream it live and on demand on discovery+, the Eurosport app and eurosport.com

‘That was scary stuff’

Eurosport pundits O’Sullivan and Jimmy White were full of praise for Higgins, who won the final two frames after initially appearing out of sorts in the Belfast showdown.

“It’s just unbelievable. I’ve never seen a clearance as good as that,” said O’Sullivan.

“There’s no one that would have expected him to clear the table – apart from John, because he was obviously going for the clearance.”

O’Sullivan on Higgins magic: ‘I’ve never seen a clearance as good as that’

He continued: “No other snooker player would have cleared up from there. No one. Because there were massive shots there. They weren’t shots to nothing, they were hard pots.”

Higgins has started the season in brilliant form having dismantled Yan Bingtao in the semi-finals and reeled off four frames on the spin to oust Mark Williams 4-3 in the last 16.

“Listen, that was absolutely phenomenal,” added White.

That clearance was definitely up in the top five ever I’ve seen. It was absolutely magic.

“The brown in the middle. Not only has he potted the brown, he’s got absolutely plum on the blue. That was scary stuff. That was awesome.”

– – –

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Northern Ireland Open

‘Messi can maybe make the game look that easy’ – O’Sullivan wowed by Higgins

19 HOURS AGO

Northern Ireland Open

‘He would have given up!’ – O’Sullivan on remarkable Higgins stat

20 HOURS AGO

Higgins recovers to share opening session in final with Allen

John Higgins clinched the final two frames of the afternoon session to leave his Northern Ireland Open final with Mark Allen all square at 4-4.

The Scot struggled for momentum in an error-strewn display – a far cry from his semi-final demolition of Yan Bingtao – but a sensational clearance under pressure in the eighth frame saw him restore parity.

Allen looked set to take a two-frame lead into Sunday’s evening session in the best-of-17 encounter, but broke down on 58 in the final frame when leading 4-3. A stalemate soon ensued on a loose red, with both players tapping behind it out of concern of two other reds hovering near pockets.

Northern Ireland Open

‘I can’t wait’ – Higgins pumped to face Allen in Belfast final showpiece

18 HOURS AGO

With the referee indicating a re-rack unless the stand-off ended, Higgins attempted a double. Although he missed, his bravery was rewarded by the red running safe – and he made no mistake with his next pot attempt, arrowing a tricky red into the bottom right pocket.

The Scot still had work to do, but a mesmerising 55 clearance – which Ronnie O’Sullivan labelled the best he had ever seen in the Eurosport studio – saw him keep his title hopes firmly alive.

Allen is still poised to swoop the £5,000 prize for highest break in the tournament after making a 147 maximum in the qualifiers.

The 35-year-old knocked out three-time defending champion Judd Trump en route to the final.

– – –

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Northern Ireland Open

Higgins v Allen – Northern Ireland Open final live updates

18 HOURS AGO

Northern Ireland Open

‘Messi can maybe make the game look that easy’ – O’Sullivan wowed by Higgins

18 HOURS AGO

Higgins v Allen – Northern Ireland Open final live updates

Higgins 0-1 Allen (1-23)

Higgins picks out a plant as a shot to nothing, but a kiss on the brown leaves him tight to the top cushion and on nothing. Allen then picks out a plant a few shots later, and lands on the green. He’s started really well here, and despite losing position slightly in the blue he calmly dispatches it to the green pocket to regain control and move to 23 in this break.

Higgins 0-1 Allen

Northern Ireland Open

‘I can’t wait’ – Higgins pumped to face Allen in Belfast final showpiece

14 HOURS AGO

A total break of 44 puts Allen into the lead.

Higgins 0-0 Allen (21-65)

Allen, a lefty, has no trouble bridging the same shot by hand, and he plugs the red. A perfect split of the remaining cluster off the black follows, and he should see it home from here. The third to last red goes, which is frame ball, and he’s on the blue.

Higgins 0-0 Allen (21-34)

It’s hard work, this, as Higgins needs a couple of efforts to open the pack in this break while he struggles for position. He needs to play his next red with the spider, and catches the red he’s bridging over with his cue to give away four and position to Allen.

Higgins 0-0 Allen (1-30)

Allen’s away first, confidently dropping a long red deadweight into the bottom right to hold for the black. He’s quickly accumulating points but leaves himself short on the remaining open red, and misses it long to the yellow pocket. It sits there for Higgins instead, who gobbles it up and has a chance to counter.

Here we go

Our MC Phil Seymour is getting it all going, and the crowd sound right up for this. Allen strides out first, Sweet Caroline blaring, and is greeted by thunderous applause. Higgins follows and gets a great reception too. Eight frames this afternoon then, let’s get this final popping.

Between the two

It’s 9-9 in all games between them; the last time they met was in the first round of the Masters in January, where Higgins nicked it in a decider. Are we in for another close one today?

The Wizard

There’s not much more you can say about Higgins. Today he’s chasing a 32nd title of his incredible career, and he looked sensational against Yan Bingtao last night. That performance had no less a player than Ronnie O’Sullivan gushing in his praise afterwards. The crowd will be right behind Allen today, but Higgins is guaranteed to be unflustered by it.

The Pistol

What a week it’s been for the local lad. Allen compiled a brilliant 147 against Si Jiahui in the early rounds, before overturning a 3-0 deficit to Judd Trump in his quarter-final to rattle off 5 in a row and win the match. He’s had his problems away from the table recently, so there’s an element of catharsis to his performances in Belfast in recent days. Can he possibly cap it all by winning his home tournament?

Good afternoon

Snooker has a lot to thank Northern Ireland for. Their wee country has provided seminal players and moments that have enriched the great game over the years. Firstly, there was the mesmerising, controversial genius of Alex Higgins, the swaggering antihero that stared down the Matchroom elite in the boom years of the eighties. In 1982 he pulled off the greatest break in history in the World Championship semi-final against Jimmy White, before reducing himself and the nation to tears with an emotional victory over Ray Reardon in the final.

Three years later, his rival Dennis Taylor gave snooker the most famous moment in its history; the get-everyone-into-the-room, post-midnight drama of the black ball final in 1985, where he finger-wagged his way past the great Steve Davis to win the world title with the last shot of the match. And, just seven months ago, there was Jordan Browne. He landed one for the little guy when, ranked 81st in the world at the time, he stunned Ronnie O’Sullivan to win the Welsh Open on a decider in the most life-affirming upset the game has seen in years.

The only other player from Ulster to win ranking event titles is Mark Allen. He’s bagged five in his career so far, but they will pale in comparison if he can land the Northern Ireland Open title today. Neither he or any of his countrymen have ever won a title at home before, so today represents a unique, special and emotional opportunity.

There’s just the one problem: facing Allen will be John Higgins, a bona fide legend of the game who has emerged this season trimmer, focused and tapping into the huge well of talent that makes him what O’Sullivan calls ‘the pro’s pro.’ Last night, he produced a sublime performance to win six frames in a row and dispatch the prodigious Yan Bingtao in their semi-final.

All of which tells us we have the ingredients for an absolute barnburner of a final today. Get snacks, drinks and get comfy; this is going to be good. The boys will be baized in around 15 minutes.

Live updates

John Higgins overcame a sluggish start to beat Yan Bingtao 6-2 and reach the final of the Northern Ireland Open where he will face Mark Allen.

You can follow live updates with us on Sunday as we bring you the best of the action from Belfast.

How to watch final on TV

You can stream the Northern Ireland Open live and on demand on discovery+, the Eurosport app and eurosport.com.

And, of course, you can also watch all the action live on Eurosport.

Recap

John Higgins overcame a sluggish start to crush Yan Bingtao 6-2 and reach the final of the Northern Ireland Open.

Higgins had scar tissue against Yan, following his defeat to the Chinese youngster in last season’s Masters final, and a repeat looked on the cards as he fell two frames behind.

But Higgins did not panic, waited for his chances and took them in ruthless fashion to book his ticket to a 57th ranking final where he will meet Mark Allen following his win over Ricky Walden.

‘No way! Honestly?’ – Higgins stunned by career statistic during Eurosport interview

Higgins complained about his tip following his quarter-final win over David Gilbert, suggesting it resembled a brick.

It did not appear to be a problem at the start of the opening frame as he compiled a break of 55, only to surprisingly miss a blue into the left middle – and Yan hoovered up a 66 to draw first blood.

Higgins was left feeling blue as he missed one for the second frame in succession, and Yan punished him to open up a two-frame lead.

Watch the moment Higgins seals victory over Yan to reach final

If Higgins had concerns about his tip or game, he settled some nerves in the third by rolling a pressure red into the left middle which set him up to get a frame on the board.

Higgins, whose previous best performance at the Northern Ireland Open was a run to the semi-finals last year, found his stride with an impressive break of 83 to draw level.

The 46-year-old took confidence into the interval, and it showed with a stunning red to seal the fifth frame. After opening up a lead, the Scot handed a chance to Yan and a safety battle ensued.

Yan had the upper hand for a large portion of it, but he left Higgins a sighter at a long red into the yellow pocket. It was fiendishly difficult, but the red never touched the sides – which drew a huge roar of approval from the crowd at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

Masters champion Yan had put on a clinic in long potting throughout the week, but that side of his game deserted him against Higgins on Saturday. He missed a red by a distance in the sixth and the Scot stepped in with a 78 to open up a two-frame lead.

The sight of Higgins in overdrive is frightening, and it seemed to unsettle Yan as he missed a simple blue when in with a chance in the seventh frame.

Higgins worked a sizeable advantage only to run out of position. He was faced with a long red similar to the one in the fifth frame. And as in the fifth, it never touched the sides as the four-time world champion made a break of 75 to make it five frames on the spin.

Higgins completed the win in some style, as a break of 90 set up a final with Allen on Sunday.

Allen, the home favourite, will have the majority of support – but he may need it if Higgins is in this sort of form.

‘I can’t wait’ – Higgins pumped to face Allen in Belfast final showpiece

– – –

Stream the Northern Ireland Open live and on demand on discovery+, the Eurosport app and eurosport.com.

Northern Ireland Open

‘Messi can maybe make the game look that easy’ – O’Sullivan wowed by Higgins

15 HOURS AGO

Northern Ireland Open

‘Messi can maybe make the game look that easy’ – O’Sullivan wowed by Higgins

15 HOURS AGO

'Messi can maybe make the game look that easy' – O'Sullivan wowed by Higgins

Ronnie O’Sullivan has said only Lionel Messi can make the game look as easy as John Higgins, and compared his win over Yan Bingtao in the semi-finals of the Northern Ireland Open to watching Roger Federer in action.

Higgins produced some jaw-dropping snooker in crushing Yan 6-2, which came 24 hours after he described his performance in his win over David Gilbert as ‘embarrassing’.

O’Sullivan is on pundit duty for Eurosport, and said he would have been happy to pay to have watched Higgins’ win over Yan.

Northern Ireland Open

‘He would have given up!’ – O’Sullivan on remarkable Higgins stat

2 HOURS AGO

“That was free of charge tonight,” O’Sullivan said. “As a snooker fan, you would pay good money to watch that.

Lionel Messi can maybe make the game look that easy.

“John is very clinical, but as a snooker player you cannot play snooker any better than that. It was unbelievable snooker.”

Watch the moment Higgins seals victory over Yan to reach final

Mark Allen lies in wait in the final, and he said he wanted to meet Higgins – comments which left O’Sullivan in shock.

“I am baffled when people say they want to play John Higgins,” O’Sullivan said. “You don’t want to play John Higgins.

“It’s like playing Messi, I don’t want to play against Lionel Messi. I don’t want to play against Roger Federer. If he’s playing well like tonight, I’m going to be a spectator.”

Yan beat Higgins in the final of last season’s Masters, but that performance could leave a mark.

O’Sullivan offered words of advice for the 21-year-old.

“If I’m in Bingtao’s corner, don’t worry about it,” the six-time world champion said. “No-one else can play snooker like that so it’s never going to happen again, unless you play John again.

“It is something you can’t really teach. He has been like that since he was a kid, so most players on the circuit would say he’s the pros’ pro.

“If you want to be another snooker player, I would choose to be John Higgins.”

‘No way! Honestly?’ – Higgins stunned by career statistic during Eurosport interview

– – –

Stream the Northern Ireland Open live and on demand on discovery+, the Eurosport app and eurosport.com.

Northern Ireland Open

‘You could envy him’ – O’Sullivan on the ‘baby’ everyone should fear

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Northern Ireland Open

O’Sullivan identifies ‘probably the greatest snooker player I’ve ever seen’

8 HOURS AGO

Higgins produces sizzling display to floor Yan and reach final

John Higgins overcame a sluggish start to crush Yan Bingtao 6-2 and reach the final of the Northern Ireland Open.

Higgins had scar tissue against Yan, following his defeat to the Chinese youngster in last season’s Masters final, and a repeat looked on the cards as he fell two frames behind.

But Higgins did not panic, waited for his chances and took them in ruthless fashion to book his ticket to a 57th ranking final where he will meet Mark Allen following his win over Ricky Walden.

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Higgins complained about his tip following his quarter-final win over David Gilbert, suggesting it resembled a brick.

It did not appear to be a problem at the start of the opening frame as he compiled a break of 55, only to surprisingly miss a blue into the left middle – and Yan hoovered up a 66 to draw first blood.

Higgins was left feeling blue as he missed one for the second frame in succession, and Yan punished him to open up a two-frame lead.

Watch the moment Higgins seals victory over Yan to reach final

If Higgins had concerns about his tip or game, he settled some nerves in the third by rolling a pressure red into the left middle which set him up to get a frame on the board.

Higgins, whose previous best performance at the Northern Ireland Open was a run to the semi-finals last year, found his stride with an impressive break of 83 to draw level.

The 46-year-old took confidence into the interval, and it showed with a stunning red to seal the fifth frame. After opening up a lead, the Scot handed a chance to Yan and a safety battle ensued.

Yan had the upper hand for a large portion of it, but he left Higgins a sighter at a long red into the yellow pocket. It was fiendishly difficult, but the red never touched the sides – which drew a huge roar of approval from the crowd at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

Masters champion Yan had put on a clinic in long potting throughout the week, but that side of his game deserted him against Higgins on Saturday. He missed a red by a distance in the sixth and the Scot stepped in with a 78 to open up a two-frame lead.

The sight of Higgins in overdrive is frightening, and it seemed to unsettle Yan as he missed a simple blue when in with a chance in the seventh frame.

Higgins worked a sizeable advantage only to run out of position. He was faced with a long red similar to the one in the fifth frame. And as in the fifth, it never touched the sides as the four-time world champion made a break of 75 to make it five frames on the spin.

Higgins completed the win in some style, as a break of 90 set up a final with Allen on Sunday.

Allen, the home favourite, will have the majority of support – but he may need it if Higgins is in this sort of form.

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