Mark Allen claims thrilling final-frame victory over John Higgins to win Northern Ireland Open for first time
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
Late crowd drama as Allen wins 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.
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.
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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.