That'll do us

That magnificent, multi-layered epic of a final brings to a close our coverage of the 2021 Northern Ireland Open. Congratulations to Mark Allen, who started the week with a 147 and ended it by winning his home tournament in an all-time classic. Commiserations to John Higgins, who will come again because he's never, ever gone away.
Thanks for you company this week, take care out there and night night.
Northern Ireland Open
Can Allen emulate fellow Northern Irish icon Higgins by winning world title?
18/10/2021 AT 14:40

What a match

In his post-match interview with Angles McManus, Higgins is generous in defeat, as he always is; he knows what he's been involved in today and he was an equal contributor to it. It'll be little consolation right now, but his 48 to go 4-4 was one of the all-time great clearances. Allen seems as much relieved as elated, and tells us how hard it was to hold it together in that final break. This really is something; the local lad, from a seemingly doomed position against the great John Higgins, recovering to deliver the Northern Ireland Open to his public. The Alex Higgins Trophy is handed to him, and he holds it high as confetti and cheers rain down around him. His family join him, as the moment sinks in. What a moment. What a final!

Mark Allen wins an epic final

That was incredible. Another idiot in the crowd again made a racket as Allen lined up the yellow, but he composed himself to clear up to the pink and take the title. The blue secured it, at which point Allen looked down at the floor, took it in, and then glanced up again. What a moment for him! And what a comeback. At 8-6 down to John Higgins most players in history would have folded. Allen, even though he was struggling, recovered for surely the most sensational victory of his career. The Waterfront Hall, as you might expect, is absolutely bouncing.

Higgins 8-9 Allen

MARK ALLEN HAS DONE IT! HE'S THE 2021 NORTHERN IRELAND OPEN CHAMPION!

Higgins 8-8 Allen (31-45)

My oh my, this is incredible. Allen picks off the final three reds after a deft canon on one of the final two to bring it out and land on the black, and goes up for the colours off the pink. He needs the baulk colours...

Higgins 8-8 Allen (31-27)

Allen gets his break going, needing an awkward pink to right middle with his cueing hampered early on. He makes it, and starts picking off reds to reduce Higgins' lead. He's got the black back on its spot, and a huge chance here. If he can move two reds to the left of the black, which are blocking each other it's a huge chance. Before that, he plays a poor shot to leave a difficult cut on a red to bottom right with the rest. He overcuts it, and he's left it for Higgins. It's a thin one, and Higgins snicks it in so thin that the white runs past the baulk colours. He recovers with a green to the right middle though, and has the angle on the left of the two adjacent reds to pot it bottom left. He goes for it...but hits the wrong red first and misses it! Even worse, it sits up over the bottom right for Allen.

Higgins 8-8 Allen (27-2)

A safety from Allen leaves Higgins no option other than to take a long cut on a red to the bottom right. It jaws out, and the white runs safe. Had that gone in, it could have been the title. The tension is just brutal now, with nine reds left all south of the blue spot. Higgins tries a shot to nothing and misses, which leaves Allen a tempter to the bottom left. He smashes it into the heart of the pocket, but he's run past the baulk colours and tucks up behind the yellow. Higgins escapes, but Allen gets control again by bulleting in a long red to the bottom right. The white kisses the green off its spot, and he's on it. Chance.

Higgins 8-8 Allen (27-0)

Higgins makes 21 but finally loses his battle for position and has to play back to baulk off the pack.

Higgins 8-8 Allen (20-0)

Allen catches the brown full ball when playing safe, and Higgins has his hand on the table and a red on to the bottom left. That goes, the green follows and he comes back down the table to land among choice of reds. His break keeps chugging despite the brown using all of the green pocket to drop in, but he settles down by bulleting his next red into the bottom right. Getting the first real chance is what you hope for in a decider, and Higgins has.

Higgins 8-8 Allen (6-0)

The respect between these two is obvious. They shake hands when they return to the arena, as the crowd erupts around them. If you're the proud owner of a hat, I suggest you hold on to it. Allen breaks, and Higgins hoses in a long red to get this decider going. The blue follows, but he can't get on another red and has to play safe back to baulk.

Higgins 8-8 Allen

If Higgins has limitless reservoirs of bottle, then so does Allen. Despite someone shouting out as he lined up the crucial frame ball green, he knocks in that and brown then blue, and we're going all the way here. What defiance that is from Allen, who looked like he might be gone at 8-6 behind. This sport, eh? Unbelievable.

Higgins 8-7 Allen (43-59)

Higgins gets a look at a long, thin cut to the yellow pocket, but he can't make it. He then has a chance at another long one to the bottom right, and it's miles off. How do you even hold a cue in this situation, let alone swing your arm through a shot? Allen plays a good snooker in response, and here's his chance; Higgins escapes, but serves the red up over the left middle. If Allen can hold it together here, we're going to a decider.

Higgins 8-7 Allen (43-59)

A mistake from Higgins, bringing one of the reds too far off the cushion, leaves it on to the bottom right. Allen plugs it, and he's got control. He plays safe afterwards, and then a few shots later plays one of the shots of the tournament to trap Higgins in a brutal snooker behind the pink. Higgins then fashions a brilliant multiple cushion escape, pushing the red safe but putting everything else in play. This frame is an epic within an epic.

Higgins 8-7 Allen (43-58)

Higgins plays a safety that has Allen in trouble, and forces a foul on the blue from an attempted thin contact escape from baulk. Banter then erupts in the Waterfront Hall, as referee Olivier Marteel takes on the challenge of resetting the balls, to the chuckles and comments of the crowd. After the lightness amid all the tension, Allen escapes and doesn't leave either red for Higgins. On we go, and Allen soon coughs seven to Higgins after missing a thin contact on the two reds, now both near each other on the bottom cushion, and hitting the black.

Higgins 8-7 Allen (31-58)

Allen gets to 50 by booming in the blue, going around the angles and just missing the two reds that are clamped tight near the pink. He's on the other remaining red to the bottom right with the rest though, and drops it in to land on the black. From there, Allen glances the pink and reds when coming off one cushion but not by enough to move them into position for a pot. That's end of break as Allen plays back to baulk, but what a knock in these circumstances!

Higgins 8-7 Allen (31-37)

Given the situation, and the stakes, Allen's calmness around the table is incredible. He goes ahead in the frame with a brilliant thin black to hold for his next red. When he's at the table a hush descends over this crowd, who are silently willing him to take the frame out at this visit. The atmosphere is electric.

Higgins 8-7 Allen (31-0)

The break moves to 31 with a red to right middle, and Higgins punches the red through the pack as he does so. That leaves a really difficult high cut on the black...and he jaws it and it spits out! Allen's in, and don't the crowd know it. Huge visit incoming.

Higgins 8-7 Allen (22-0)

Higgins gets a chance to close it out, as a two cushion containing safety into the underside of the pack by Allen connects but leaves a red to the bottom left. It's a tight cut but Higgins jams it in, and he's on the blue. Within a few shots he's buzzing around the black spot. The pack will need some work to make it a frame-winning chance, but he's in control in frame 16.

Higgins 8-7 Allen

Allen makes 20 to move 44 ahead with 35 remaining. That sound you may have heard was the roof coming off the Waterfront Hall when frame ball red went down. Higgins plays on, but Allen soon dispatches the final red and he's pegged a frame back. What a show of character; we've still got a live one here.

Higgins 8-6 Allen (6-42)

Allen keeps going up in increments of one, as he glides in another lovely long red to the bottom left but can't land on the brown in baulk. It must be frustrating him, but he's staying calm and playing the right shots thereafter. He tucks Higgins in behind the brown, and from the attempted escape Higgins leaves a red on with the rest to bottom right. Allen drills it in, screw back and he's on the blue! Finally. Given his current form and the state of the match, it'll be some show of moxie to win the frame at this visit. He gets a nice split on the reds near the pink after potting the blue, and it's on.

Higgins 8-6 Allen (6-29)

Huge cheers go up as Allen finds a plant to the bottom right as a shot to nothing. He's not on a colour though, and we're soon locked in a safety exchange. Allen then strokes in another long red that is thunderously appreciated, but again overruns the colours in baulk so has to play safe. This is a really awkward table, with the pink and black currently tied up, and we could be in for a spell of attrition here. Allen gets a third red in, thin to the left middle, but again he can't locate position on the green. Tense? You'd better believe it.

Higgins 8-6 Allen (6-26)

Higgins goes all out for a long red to the bottom left. It looks in, but rattles and stays over the pocket. Allen's not lacking for encouragement from the crowd in the Waterfront Hall, and has a glimmer of a chance here. It takes a few good pots to try and find position but he finally loses it after potting the black, nixing his break on 18. Allen's really out of rhythm here, but he's giving it everything.

Higgins 8-6 Allen (6-8)

If Mark Allen is going to win his home tournament he's going to have to do it the hard way; he needs all three remaining frames. From his break-off he leaves Higgins a wafer thin cut to the left middle. Higgins snicks it in, and follows it up with a deadweight brown. That was some shot, as the white was tight to the right rail. He then drops a red into the bottom right, and deftly nudges a red away from the black to land on it. The rest is required as it's a close quarters jab...and he's missed it! Now then Mark, what have you got? He picks off a red and goes into the bunch off the black, but slides off them and ends up stranded in baulk.

Higgins 8-6 Allen

Higgins empties the table for a magnificent 136. He's now one frame away from winning the trophy titled after his namesake Alex.

Higgins 7-6 Allen (78-6)

That's the frame in the bank for Higgins as he takes his break to 70. He's had to hang in at points today, but right when needed he's just changed gears here. This is a magnificent break given the situation, pressure and atmosphere in the Waterfront Hall. Higgins is absolute granite.

Higgins 7-6 Allen (62-6)

The wind has changed in the last couple of frames of this final and Higgins, sensing an opponent starting to struggle for the first time today, is going for it. He's cruised to a half-century here with alarming ease, and with the way the balls are set it'll be a surprise if he doesn't double that over.

Higgins 7-6 Allen (24-6)

Allen has a bash at a long red to the bottom left at the start of the fourteenth. It rattles out of the pocket, and flies across the table and into the left middle. He holds his hand up but he'll be inwardly thrilled, as that was a chance for Higgins otherwise. A blue to yellow pocket follows, before Allen misses a red to the bottom left with the rest thereafter. He's not left anything though, and Higgins lays a snooker behind the yellow that yields four points. Allen is soon put back in, and he overshoots his attempt to land on a red on the bottom cushion and leaves it on to the bottom right. This is a big chance for Higgins, and he's not wasting any time in taking it. A nice early split on the pack has opened this right up.

Higgins 7-6 Allen

Higgins gets a look at frame ball, punching a short jab long to the bottom left, but it rattles in and out. That leaves a red on to the same pocket for Allen from distance, and it's there. He misses an awkward black with the rest though, and that leaves Higgins plum on a red. Allen duly concedes, and for the first time today John Higgins is in the lead.

Higgins 6-6 Allen (64-0)

Higgins takes the green after his tenth red, but can't get far enough down the table to land on his next one. That would've been frame ball, but he plays safe and will have to wait for another chance. Allen has got a mountain here, but has at least freed up the black to give himself a chance if he can get in.

Higgins 6-6 Allen (53-0)

This is hard work for Higgins, who only has the pink to work with as his colour for the time being. He grafts his way to a half-century, but it's getting tougher by the shot as five of the remaining reds are either tied up or extremely difficult to drop on.

Higgins 6-6 Allen (18-0)

A long safety exchange opens frame 13, before Higgins reverses a red into the bottom left and just about lands on the green. He's soon back down the table, but it's not the easiest spread as the black is close to another red and won't pot to either corner.

Higgins 6-6 Allen

Once more unto the breach. Allen has led four times today, and each time Higgins has pegged him back. Can either man pull away here? Don't be surprised if we're on the colours at 8-8 in two hours time still trying to sort out this one.

Higgins 6-6 Allen

You might want to Google hotels in Shredsville, because it looks like that's where we're heading. The players go in to the interval locked at 6-6, and we've got an epic unfolding before us here. We'll return in 15 minutes, and it'll be best of five for the Alex Higgins Trophy.

Higgins 5-6 Allen (69-40)

The final red and a colour will be enough. Higgins leaves it a little awkward down the left rail and needs to use the rest, but he middles it and picks off the blue. He's on the yellow, and this one is over.

Higgins 5-6 Allen (47-40)

Allen gives away five after missing a long red to the bottom left and inadvertently sending the blue flying into the green pocket. It's really tense out there. Higgins then plays the safety of the match, trapping Allen in tight behind the yellow, and he's left him in all sorts with no safe reds to drop on. Allen hits, hopes, and escapes, but leaves a red on to the right middle. The frame's there for Higgins too, and he quickly takes the lead. There are a couple of reds near cushions but on to the bottom left.

Higgins 5-6 Allen (25-40)

It's a measured break from Allen, who hits the front and quickly takes his break to 40. He's nudged a few reds into position beneath the pink spot, but will have to take one with the rest to keep this break going. It doesn't even go close to the pocket, but Allen hasn't left anything for Higgins, who comes back to the table. There are six reds still out there, and this could be a very important stretch of play before the interval.

Higgins 5-6 Allen (25-0)

Allen's long game fails him for once as he misses a long red to the bottom right but sends the white screaming into the same pocket. That's ball in hand for Higgins and the missed red lands in the D to give him an easy starter. Higgins is straight into it, and he soon splits the pack off the black but leaves only a jab at a long red to the yellow pocket. It's close, but it hangs in the jaws. What's more, Allen can see it and has a chance to counter.

Higgins 5-6 Allen

The pendulum swings to Allen again, as an 85 takes out the frame and puts him back in front.

Higgins 5-5 Allen (0-72)

There goes frame ball red and the blue, and Higgins is done in this one.

Higgins 5-5 Allen (0-51)

He's taken these very calmly indeed to get to 46, but seems to get a big bounce of a cushion that throws him slightly out of position on his next red. It's now an awkward one with the rest, but Allen drills it in and lands on the green to huge cheers. The half-century soon arrives, and this is lovely stuff from Allen who should see it home from here.

Higgins 5-5 Allen (0-24)

Allen gets another long red down to start the eleventh, but he can't bash through surrounding reds to land on a colour. Higgins then tries a long thrash to the bottom left, but he's missed by a long way and left one on to the same pocket for Allen. That goes, and after some neat work to get beneath the pack and clear the black spot, this is a good chance.

Higgins 5-5 Allen

The end justifies the means in this case. Allen misjudges a safety, and leaves the final red invitingly on to the left middle. Higgins takes that and the blue, and Allen needs snookers. He won't get the chance, as Higgins clears up to the pink to level it up.

Higgins 4-5 Allen (63-40)

Well, that is a surprise. Higgins leaves the last red as a mid-ranger to the bottom right. It's difficult, but he is John Higgins, so there's a general sense of amazement when he turns it down and plays safe. Will he regret that? We'll soon find out.

Higgins 4-5 Allen (58-40)

You ca hear a pin drop in the Waterfront Hall as Higgins calmly scratches together a half-century, although he's overrun position carelessly on the third to last red. It's a thin cut back to the bottom right, which he slices in and just about comes round to land on the pink. He makes that too, which leaves an either thinner snick on a red in baulk. Higgins plugs it and, although he's not fully in control, his break is still ticking over.

Higgins 4-5 Allen (24-40)

It's end of break for Allen as he misses a difficult long red to the green pocket. Higgins jabs in a red with the full set of extensions in use, and then pulls off a smart cut back on the black to bottom right to keep going. He's quickly working this into a frame-winning chance, and all remaining reds are in the open.

Higgins 4-5 Allen (0-32)

Allen's long game is on point tonight. From Higgins' break, he drains another one down the left side of the table. He's just about on the green, but pots it so thin that he loses position and isn't on a red. Safety ensues, and a snooker behind the green by Allen forces a mistake from Higgins, who can't drop deadweight onto a red on the bottom cushion. That's four away, but more importantly he's left the target red on to the bottom right. Allen's off, scoring quickly, and there are a good few on here.

Higgins 4-5 Allen

Listen to that. A huge roar goes up as Allen clears up to the pink to take the lead again.

Higgins 4-4 Allen (47-56)

Allen drops the blue in to take the lead in the frame, and then picks off the last red with another blue to follow that brings up his half-century. Up to and including the blue will do it...

Higgins 4-4 Allen (47-7)

A mistake from Higgins, missing a cut on a red into the bottom right, nixes his break on 25. Safety follows, until Allen drains a brilliant long red to the bottom left to hold for the black. A dish here would be some riposte to Higgins after the end to the first session, and it's on.

Higgins 4-4 Allen (33-6)

A chance for Allen now, as Higgins plays off one cushion and onto the pack but leaves a red on to the bottom left. Allen can only make six though before missing a red to the right middle. That leaves a tricky red to the green pocket for Higgins, but despite hampered cueing he strokes it in and he's got a real chance here. These are hard yards though as he's struggling for position, but my word Higgins looks determined. He's going for everything, and getting it. A lovely shot on a mid-range reds finally locates perfect position on the black.

Higgins 4-4 Allen (22-0)

Higgins had a little grin to himself as the players prepped themselves; he knows who the crowd want to win. He's away first tonight though, picking off the few loose reds available before going into the pack off the black. He's not on a red, and sends the white back to baulk.

Here they come

It's lively in the Waterfront Hall alright. Our MC Phil Seymour brings out the players and, naturally, Allen gets the bigger roar. Higgins gets a fair ovation too though, and we're ready to go. First to nine for the title then; it is absolutely jumping out there.

Earlier...

If you missed it, seek it out. In the final frame of the day John Higgins, from 63-16 behind, produced one of the greatest clearances in history to bag 48 points and nick the frame on the black. It was a staggering effort, and the difference between going into the forthcoming session level rather than behind. The whole session was an absorbing contest of the highest quality. Can the two of them give us the same calibre of entertainment tonight? Here's hoping.

GOOD EVENING

Welcome back to live coverage of the 2021 Northern Ireland Open from the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.
Is this perfectly poised? I’ll say it is. John Higgins and Mark Allen split eight frames equally this afternoon, so it’s effectively a best of nine now for the Alex Higgins Trophy. It’ll either be the 32nd title of Higgins’ storied career or an emotional hometown victory for Allen. Whichever way it goes, if this afternoon is any kind of barometer it could be spectacular.
Boys will be reunited with baize in about fifteen minutes.

Tonight tonight

That jaw-dropper of a clearance capped a superb session of snooker. Allen won two, Higgins won two; Allen won another two, and Higgins responded in kind. What a session we've got ahead of us tonight in a full Waterfront Hall. Join us again from 6.45pm, because it could really be something magical.

The comedown

I'm still catching my breath after that. How on earth did Higgins dish there? That was absolutely sensational, and it's left two greats in Jimmy White and Ronnie O'Sullivan utterly staggered in the studio. There were points where it looked like the break was over, only for Higgins to drain spectacular pots with all the calm serenity of a man popping over the road for a pint of milk.

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

Higgins 4-4 Allen

The man is unbelievable. Higgins picks off the routine blue, pink and black to nick the frame by a point and send us into the evening session all square. That is one of the greatest clearances you will ever, ever see.

Higgins 3-4 Allen (46-63)

The reds have all gone with colours, the cue ball having to travel huge distances to pick off the pink and blue required, and Higgins now needs the 27 remaining to pinch it by a point. The green is the potential saviour here for Allen, as it's tight to the bottom rail and a long way from the brown. Higgins shorts position on the yellow, and has to take it with the rest. He plugs it superbly, and he's left an angle on this green to get back up the table. Higgins picks it off, but the cue ball runs agonisingly past the potting angle of the brown. So what says Higgins; he drains a sensational thin brown to the left middle to land on the blue! WHAT A SHOT!

Higgins 3-4 Allen (17-63)

This is a bizarre but absorbing situation. Two reds are over pockets, yellow and right middle, with the white close to touching the third red in the bottom half of the table. It's tap and nudge, as neither player wants to leave a shot on. Allen's next pot is frame ball, can he get a chance? The aim here is to leave a touching ball to force your opponent to play away, but neither can manage it. Higgins breaks the deadlock by playing off the left rail to pot the red into the right middle...and he connects but it misses! Amazingly though he's not left anything. Allen plays a containing safety but he's left Higgins a red blind into the bottom right. It's such a tough shot...and he's dropped it in to land on the black!

Higgins 3-4 Allen (16-63)

Allen leaves Higgins a look at a long red to the green pocket. Higgins duly drops it in, and he's on the black. He couldn't, could he? There's a lot of work to do to make this a chance, and a stunning red down the rail keeps this fledgling break going. There are three reds left and Higgins needs to disturb them as they're bunched, but he's missed a blue to the left middle and Allen returns to the table.

Higgins 3-4 Allen (0-63)

Allen misses a canon on the two reds above the black, and has to take a red in baulk to the yellow pocket with the rest. It's in, and he's on the brown, and now comes the key shot. Can he get on one of the six remaining reds? The answer is no, as he catches the green when potting the brown, and it's end of break. There's still 75 left out there.

Higgins 3-4 Allen (0-43)

It needs a careful touch this break, as the reds are split but not invitingly open. Allen quickly advances to 38, but it's getting progressively harder. There are two awkward reds covering each other above the black, plus four near the right rail.

Higgins 3-4 Allen (0-6)

After our second re-rack of the day we're underway in the eighth. Allen pulls out a beauty of a long red to the bottom left, but just overruns the baulk colours and tucks in behind the yellow. Higgins later goes in-off as the players trade safety shots, and when Allen puts him back in he gambles on a red to bottom right form the D and misses. He's left Allen in now, with the first real chance of the frame.

Higgins 3-4 Allen

A total of 55 does the necessary for Higgins. I'd say we've got a fairly huge frame incoming.

Higgins 2-4 Allen (70-0)

The eleventh red pushes Higgins past the winning post, with the black that follows ending the argument. This is an absorbing final of the highest class.

Higgins 2-4 Allen (31-0)

This is a dangerous table. There are reds everywhere, and it's difficult to get the white safe. Higgins drops in a plant, gambling on position which doesn't arrive. From his safety Allen tries to cut in a long red, but he's left it near the jaws of the bottom left. Higgins can't see it, but plays a superb safety to ensure that Allen can't either. This is gripping. Allen then misses a long red down the other side of the table; he'd fully committed to that, and he's left a red to bottom left for Higgins. That goes, and the pink is on. This is a big chance for Higgins.

Higgins 2-4 Allen (22-0)

Higgins gets a chance to respond in the seventh. He drains a mid-ranger to the bottom right, catching a fortunate double kiss on another red as he does so to land on the black. Cash your fortune in they say, and he's doing just that until he jaws a black in the bottom right and spits out. That's poor by his standards, but Allen isn't on one and can only play back to baulk.

Higgins 2-4 Allen

Allen clears up to the blue, and he's won a big frame here. He'll go into the evening session no worse than level.

Higgins 2-3 Allen (47-53)

Higgins brings out the final red after potting the black, and it's on to the yellow pocket. It's a huge shot, but he's missed it by a long way. Allen hasn't got a look at a pot though, so we're soon into a safety exchange. Allen picks up four after snookering Higgins on the black, and he's got control of the table. Another good safety then forces an error from Higgins, who leaves the red long over the green pocket. Allen drops it in and lands on the green; the frame is now at his mercy.

Higgins 2-3 Allen (39-48)

There seems to be a bit more tension in Allen's cue arm now as he's losing position on a few shots, but a couple of good recovery pots steady the ship. His break moves to 34 before he overcuts a red to the bottom left and leaves on the right jaw for Higgins. This feels like a big frame now in the context of this first session. Higgins starts firing back, 18 and counting so far, but there's one red welded to the right rail that he'll need to shift.

Higgins 2-3 Allen (21-29)

Allen makes just eight before losing position. His ensuing safety is loose though and leaves Higgins a long red to the bottom left. Higgins rolls it, and it looks in for all the world, but the red hands in the jaws and doesn't drop. What a chance now for Allen, who sets about picking off the available points.

Higgins 2-3 Allen (21-6)

Higgins is away again in the sixth. A safety error from Allen leaves him a red along the bottom rail and into the bottom left, and he calmly rolls it in to land on the black. It goes awry on 21 though as his attempt to split the pack off the blue doesn't come off, and he's left the white in the jaws of the bottom right. That's end of break, and a sloppy safety leaves Allen a look at a red to left middle. Allen wastes no time in dispatching it, before fluking an outrageous blue in the right middle after rolling it off the knuckles of the left middle. He's on nothing though, and now his safety is poor; he's left a red over the bottom right, Higgins misses it deadweight though, and he's left it on; the tension is rising.

Higgins 2-3 Allen

A total of 68 is enough for Higgins to reduce his deficit to one frame.

Higgins 1-3 Allen (63-11)

A red to the bottom right brings up the half-century for Higgins, and he's on the blue. From there he plays for the one remaining loose red, and lands on the black. From there he pots it, bounces off the bottom cushion and splits the cluster of four below the pink. He's on one to the right middle, and it's curtains in this one.

Higgins 1-3 Allen (20-11)

Allen leaves Higgins a tempter to the green pocket, which is stroked in effortlessly. That's another great shot, and Higgins comes down the table off the brown and this break is moving quickly. He's cleared the path for the black to both corners, and this is a great chance.

Higgins 1-3 Allen (0-11)

We're back, and a poor safety from Higgins leaves Allen a cut on a red to the bottom left from beneath the black spot. It goes, and Allen is lucky to land on a red in baulk thereafter. Fate isn't so kind a few shots later though, as he drifts past his intended red on the right of the pack and lands on nothing.

Higgins 1-3 Allen

Allen takes his break to 36 with the black, and Higgins now needs snookers. Another red follows and puts it beyond any doubt, before Allen plays safe off the brown. Higgins concedes, and Allen takes a 3-1 lead into the interval.
What an absorbing mini-session that was. We'll be back in 15 minutes.

Higgins 1-2 Allen (6-49)

This is our first safety exchange of the match, in which Higgins twice gets a look at red to right middle but can't convert either. He then tries to pot his way out of trouble with a red to the bottom right, and he's left a jab at a long red to the yellow pocket for Allen. In it goes, and there's enough loose for Allen to bank another frame here. The break is at 16 and counting.

Higgins 1-2 Allen (6-33)

Allen won't go home wondering tonight. He clatters in another long red, gun barrel straight into the bottom left, and he's on the black. He takes on another soon after, to the same pocket, but this one jaws out and he's left a chance for Higgins. A thin red to the yellow pocket is clipped in, but he can't open the pack well enough off the blue and we've got our first bitty frame of the day.

Higgins 1-2 Allen (0-25)

After a re-rack the fourth eventually gets underway. Allen absolutely bullets in a long red to the bottom left, and he comes back up the table for the yellow. My word, this is some standard so far. He makes 25, but misjudges a stun shot off the black and fails to land on his intended red or any others. A containing safety follows.

Higgins 1-2 Allen

Higgins sails past the winning line, converting his break into a century and then only a missed blue denies him a total clearance. Beforehand that was a flawless 123, and we're through three frames in a heartbeat.
If that's the standard, keep it coming.

Higgins 0-2 Allen (63-0)

This is a lovely, rhythmic break from Higgins as he accelerates effortlessly to the winning line. He makes a plant on two reds to the bottom right, and holds for the pink; that's freed up a number of other reds and it looks a formality from here.

Higgins 0-2 Allen (32-0)

The unflappable Higgins fires right back. With the white stuck near the top cushion after Allen's break, he drains a gorgeous long red into the bottom left and lands on the black. He swiftly moves to 31, and then drains a superb long red to the green pocket to stay on the black and keep his break going.

Higgins 0-2 Allen

Light work. Allen makes the frame safe and goes on to make 82. It's worth noting of course that Yan Bingtao took the first two against Higgins last night. Early days, but Allen is in charge.

Higgins 0-1 Allen (1-51)

Allen's break hits 50, and he clears the black spot as he pots the black by bumping another red out of the red. There's a long way to go here, but this is a fantastic start.

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

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 Brown. 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

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Stream the Northern Ireland Open live and on demand on discovery+, the Eurosport app and eurosport.com.
Northern Ireland Open
'One of the all-time greats' - Allen pays tribute to Higgins after Northern Ireland Open win
18/10/2021 AT 07:45
Northern Ireland Open
'He's done it the hard way' - O'Sullivan praises Allen after Northern Ireland Open win
18/10/2021 AT 07:34