Marvellous Mark Allen holds off John Higgins to seal Northern Ireland Open glory
Home favourite Mark Allen sealed a fairytale Northern Ireland Open victory after beating John Higgins 9-8 in a thrilling final on Sunday.
Belfast-born Allen delighted the crowd at the Waterfront Hall as he recovered from 8-6 behind to claim his sixth ranking title – and first since the 2018 Scottish Open.
It capped off a remarkable week for the Pistol, whose campaign began in emphatic fashion as he fired in a 147 during his opening-round win over Si Jiahui.
Allen became only the fifth multiple winner of Home Nations titles since the establishment of the series in 2016, after Judd Trump, Mark Selby, Neil Robertson and Stuart Bingham.
“In front of my home fans, I wanted to play one of the all-time greats and John is right up there,” he told Eurosport.
“Any win against John is a big win, and to do it here is a dream come true for me really.
“To be honest, I don’t normally get past round one here, so it’s a real bonus!
“I’ve tried to play it down all week but I know what this means to me; I know what Northern Ireland snooker means to these people, and to keep this trophy here [in Northern Ireland] is a special moment that I’ll never forget.”
Although Allen shaded the head-to-head record 9-8, he had lost each of his four previous encounters with Higgins over the best of 17 frames or greater.
Nevertheless, he settled quickly and controlled the opening frame with runs of 30 and 44, before a break of 82 doubled his lead.
Higgins replied with a magnificent contribution of 123, but Allen dominated the next to restore his two-frame buffer at the interval.
Appearing in his 52nd ranking event final, four-time World champion Higgins closed the deficit with runs of 68 and 55, before a remarkable 48 clearance from 63-16 down saw him snatch the last frame of the afternoon and level at 4-4.
The first four frames of the evening were shared as Allen’s breaks of 70 and 85 were cancelled out by runs of 63 and 59 from Higgins.
The Wizard had produced several inspired turnarounds throughout the week; defeating Mark Williams 4-3 from 3-0 behind, while also overturning 2-0 deficits in his wins over David Gilbert and Yan Bingtao.
And he took the lead for the first time in the final with 64, before a stunning 136 total clearance moved him to the brink of a 32nd ranking title.
Although Allen stayed alive, Higgins had a good chance to wrap up victory at 31-0 up in frame 16.
However, a missed black off its spot while cueing awkwardly from the side rail enabled his opponent to force a decider with 58.
As the pressure intensified, chances came and went for both players until Allen held his nerve with a neat 38 clearance to seal a dramatic victory.
“At 8-6, [Mark] could have folded but he played a brilliant frame to go 8-7 to put the pressure back on,” Higgins said.
“Every credit; he’s a great ambassador for Irish snooker, so well done.
“Earlier on in the tournament, I was 3-0 down to Mark Williams. If someone had said you were going to come through and have a great a match against Mark in front of his home fans, you’d have taken it.”