John Higgins will play Ronnie O’Sullivan in a mouth-watering Masters Quarter-Final after scraping past Mark Allen 6-5 in Milton Keynes on Wednesday.
Despite breaks of 82, 84 and 80, the four-time World Champion surrendered 3-1 and 5-3 leads and was forced into a deciding frame by ‘The Pistol’ – who had a top break of 106 along the way.
However, Higgins held his nerve to ensure that his record-equalling 27th appearance in snooker’s most prestigious invitational event will continue.
The 45-year-old, who moves level with Steve Davis and Jimmy White, was fresh from appearing in the Championship League the previous week, and looked sharp as he controlled the opening frame.
But 2018 champion Allen – winner of three of the four most recent meetings between the players – hit back with a brilliant break of 106 to level and register the 600th century in the history of the tournament.
This was the fifth time that Higgins was facing the Pistol at the Masters, with each of the four previous showdowns ending in defeat for the Wizard.
Nevertheless, the world number six controlled frame three to edge his nose back in front, before moving 3-1 up thanks to a contribution of 82.
The Pistol came back firing after the interval, albeit with a huge slice of good fortune; a monstrous fluke on the opening red paving the way for a break of 92.
He then snatched a lengthy and scrappy sixth frame on the black to square the contest once more after Higgins over-cut the pink to the top corner pocket.
However, the two-time Betfred Masters champion – in 1999 and 2006– responded well to that setback with runs of 84 and 80 moving him to the brink of victory.
Champion of Champions winner Allen refused to lie down with 62 to reduce the deficit to 5-4, but was on the cusp of a third-straight Masters first-round defeat in the next with Higgins leading by 35 points with 35 remaining.
But rather than take on a tricky final red, the Scotsman opted to play safe and after obtaining the snooker he required, the Northern Irishman produced a nerveless 35 clearance to snatch the frame on the black and force a decider.
To complete the quarter-final and with a showdown against O’Sullivan up for grabs, the tension was evident as both players squandered early opportunities before Allen rattled a relatively straightforward red in the jaws of the top corner pocket.
And despite winning just one deciding frame in seven previous attempts in this competition, Higgins held his nerve with a neat run of 59 eventually enough to get him over the line.
Article by Jonathan Davies