World Championship Qualifiers 2009: Stunning clearance completes dramatic Lee comeback

Wow, what a day in Sheffield and what a comeback from Stephen Lee to book his place at the Crucible for a 13th consecutive season and deny Judd Trump a second appearance there. Click below for a detailed report on that match, as well as some observations from the other four matches…

With there being just the two sessions today it was a bit different as I arrived there at about 10:30am, half an hour after the start of play. I did however only ‘need’ a photo of one player so it meant that rather than spend my day running up and down the stairs to get players as their matches come to a finish, I could actually sit and watch the snooker!

The three tables that I was particularly keen to watch were those involving Stephen Lee, Mark Williams and Ricky Walden and it just so happened that they were all next to each other (from right to left on the above photo), so I could keep an eye on everything I wanted to. As a result my coverage on the other matches will be fairly limited, simply because I did not see very much at all.

Stephen Lee 10-8 Judd Trump


Although I have been to the EISS a few times now, today was the first time that I had been for the final round of the World Championship qualifiers and the first thing that was apparent when entering the gallery was that snooker fans were out in force. It was much busier than I had ever previously seen it and as such I had to make do with standing at the back, though I prefer that anyway as I can stroll around and keep an eye on the scores.

When I got there, Stephen had just gone into the lead at 1-0 but that was as good as it was going to get for a while as Judd brought out some of his very best form. Frame two went the way of the 19-year-old way as he made an excellent break of 66, highlighted by a pink to the right-centre when he looked to be out of position before a stunning 137 total clearance put him ahead. He was soon flying again in frame four and even though he missed a black at pace early in the break, everything seemed to be going his way as he fluked it into the right-centre on the way to a frame-winning run of 76.

When they came back after the interval, Judd picked up where he left off and though he missed a tricky pot to the left-centre on 33, he was soon back in again, moving 4-1 ahead with a break of 63. This soon became 5-1 (while I was downstairs waiting for Mark Williams who had already completed his session) and already it was hard to see Stephen coming back from such a big deficit.

That being said, despite the one-sided scoreline Stephen was not actually playing too badly, Judd was just punishing every single mistake to the maximum and really piling the pressure on. Stephen hung in there though, managing to get one back for 5-2 and for a while it looked like he would take two in a row to move back to within a couple of frames.

Having made a break of 42 however, he was very unlucky when attempting to split the remaining reds as two came over and blocked the intended path for the black. He attempted to rescue the break with a tough pink to the left-centre, but it did not even hit the jaws and Judd soon had a chance for 6-2. It was far from easy with one red near the side-cushion above the left-centre pocket, but he managed to drop on it and pot it brilliantly into the far corner. Effectively it proved to be a frame-winner and at this moment I thought very much a match-winner.

Stephen though kept on fighting and when Judd missed a chance following a poor Lee safety shot, a clearance of 32 sent them into the break at 6-3.


Coming back for the evening, it was important for Stephen to get off to a good start and this he did as although Judd made a break of 30, it ended when he went into the reds off the blue, landed on nothing easy and Lee stepped in to win the frame with 64.

He started the next frame poorly though as after potting the opening red, he made a total mess of the safety shot and gave Judd an immediate chance to respond. Like was the case for much of the morning, Judd made no mistake and the three-frame cushion was restored at 7-4 with a run of 71.

Stephen now had a real task on, indeed he really needed to win three of the first four frames tonight and to do that he would need the next two frames. In frame 12 it was Judd who again had the first chance, floating in a beautiful long red from the Lee break-off before confidently potting a blue in the green pocket. Having developed the reds though he was to miss one to the right-centre and to the disappointment of his many fans watching on, present Lee with a chance. He looked like making it 7-5 but when attempting to develop the reds on 52, he just got a bad kiss off one of the reds and left himself out of position, throwing his chalk in the air in frustration as a result. Judd though could not make a response at 7-5 it was.

The last frame before the interval now took on added significance, at 7-6 Lee would be right back in it, but at 8-5 he might feel that his efforts were in vain and Judd would gain even more confidence and go on to win the match comfortably. Having seen Stephen miss a long red, again the first chance fell to Trump but crucially he missed a shocking blue off the spot to right-centre when attempting to develop reds. It was a miss that not only prompted rather audible gasps from the crowd, but left him looking stunned and as I wrote at the time, was the first big sign that he was feeling it a little out there.

Though Stephen could not capitalise in one visit as he struggled to get the cue ball in ideal position and eventually paid the price on 43, Judd missed again, bringing another red out from a safe position in the process and you could see that he needed the interval and quick. This is exactly what he got too as Stephen cleared up for 6-7 at the break with 70.

The match was now finely poised, having looked so good earlier in the day Trump was now looking edgy and Lee was using all of his experience to not only hang in there, but get himself right back into the match. Could Judd steady the ship and re-assert himself? Yes looked like being the answer initially as having seen Lee break down on 21, he dropped in another excellent long red and set about another break. Though he eventually missed a long red, Stephen played a terrible safety shot soon after and presented Judd with a clear chance for 8-6.

Unbelievably however, having potted the final red he then made a mess of brown to yellow and left it more awkward than it really needed to be. Given the pressure on him at that moment you could sense a miss coming and that is exactly what happened as he left it on for Stephen for good measure.

It was not just Judd who was struggling to cope with the pressure however and Stephen also missed his chance at the yellow and left it on for his opponent. Although Judd missed it into the intended pocket, it looked like he might actually fluke it into the green pocket, indeed Stephen got up and then went to sit back in his chair again. It just about wobbled and managed to stay out though and with a steely clearance of 20 to the black (the highlight being an excellent green to the right-centre), they were level again at 7-7 and now Stephen looked a clear favourite. Judd was really struggling to pot anything difficult and he really needed Stephen to leave him an easy starter to get himself going again.

So what happened next? Yep you guessed it, Judd got that easy starter that he was looking for and went on to win the frame. Stephen did have a chance but he needed all of the last five reds, none of which were easily available and he could only get two before going in-off the pink and leaving himself needing snookers. Judd though was just relieved to be back into the lead and needing just two more frames for victory.

Frame 16 and yet another dodgy break-off from Stephen presented Judd with a long red to go at right from the start. In common with how the match had turned around however, Judd could not take advantage this time and it was Lee who was first in with a mid-distance pot to the yellow pocket. The break eventually ticked over to 30 but came to an end when an attempt to split the reds from the black ended with the cueball stuck amongst the pack. A bout of rolling up to the reds then ensued before Judd tried to be a little too clever and ended up exposing the sole red in baulk close to the yellow pocket which Stephen duly potted.

Not for the first time this frame however, he could not make his dominance and his chances count on the scoreboard, despite being well on top as he had been for much of the session. Eventually though it was to be a ridiculous piece of bad luck for Judd when he cannoned into a red which then sent the white in-off to the right-centre that was to provide Lee with the decisive opportunity. With some brilliant exhibition shots to finish, he was back level again at 8-8 and the pressure was back on Trump once again.

At this point I was thinking back to that match at the UK Championship against Stephen Hendry where despite having played quite poorly for much of the contest, Lee got better and better as the match went on and by the end looked to be full of confidence as he won by a couple of frames. He was beginning to look similar in this match, before he suffered some bad fortune himself when on 35 his attempt to move some reds left nothing easy and he was forced to play safe.

Judd though was again unlucky when he had a thunderous kick when attempting a long red to the yellow pocket and from here Lee was able to move ahead at 9-8 – the first time he had led since taking the very first frame back at about 10am.

Frame 18 and what a frame it would turn out to be. For the umpteenth time today Stephen left a pottable red on from his break-off shot and Judd knocked it in with no problem. Given the pressure he was under, his break was excellent until on 47 he broke down with a miss to right-centre. Lee attempted to come back to him but eventually Judd found himself in again and at 61-3 up with five reds remaining, the match looked to have a deciding frame written all over it. Trump was not on a red however and having seen an attempted double just miss, Lee had a chance for the match, but it was far from easy.

Match-winning break

Having started the break with a superb red to the right-centre, the next three were reasonably straightforward but Judd always had the insurance of the remaining awkward one which was close to the side-cushion on the right of the table. Stephen managed to drop on it, but he came further than he would have liked to and left himself a tricky cut-back, made harder by the fact that he had to pot pink or black afterwards to avoid leaving himself needing snookers.

The red went in and so was the pink, though again it was far from easy. The next problem he had to negotiate was the green which had found itself in the middle of the table, around level with the blue spot. Given his angle on the yellow, Stephen decided to play in behind it and leave himself a mid-distance pot to the yellow pocket, which he duly got. Again though the brown was far from straightforward, but despite having to use the rest he just about managed to make it. Blue soon followed but just when he looked to have perfect position, he managed to underhit it and leave himself caught in the middle with the pink, coming too far for an easy pot to the centre but not far enough for the corner.

The tension by this point was just unbearable, I was shaking like a leaf and I’m not particularly a Stephen Lee fan, though by this stage I certainly wanted him to complete the clearance. The pink went in, but the drama was not yet over as the white came round the table and headed ominously towards the right-centre pocket. Stephen jumped up into the air, willing it to miss and he just about got his wish as it caught the knuckle, but this meant that the white was to finish right on the bottom cushion and leave a tough black if he was to complete a memorable clearance (think the last black from Hendry’s 147 at the Crucible, almost identical). After eyeing it up for a while, Lee got down, played the shot…

…and it went in! Stephen then clenched his fist not once but twice, before shaking Judd’s hand and then raising his fist triumphantly to the crowd for a third time. He was absolutely thrilled and who can blame him, not only was it a sensational clearance (ok the positional play was hardly great but some of the pots under pressure were phenomenal), but it was a brilliant comeback against an opponent who earlier on in the day looked like he would cruise to victory.

Both players received a standing ovation and me being me, I just got out of there and wanted to shake Stephen’s hand afterwards and say well done, which I duly did, it was a thrilling match to watch that just about had everything. Judd will be absolutely devastated right now I expect but hopefully he will learn from the experience and come back a better player for it. In the morning session he was pretty unplayable for most of it, but you could just see the pressure mounting as Stephen would not give in and from that missed blue at 7-5 onwards he never really looked the same player again.

For Stephen Lee though, again it is a brilliant win and you could see just how much it meant to him. As well as making absolutely certain of his top 32 place for next season, it means that he will be back at the Crucible for another year and he is certainly one of the tougher players in Wednesday’s draw.


Mark Williams 10-5 Tom Ford


While the other matches were far from slow affairs, this contest just absolutely flew by as Mark and Tom put on a real show in both sessions. I arrived just in time to see Tom go 2-1 up with a superb break of 105, but Mark responded in no time with 69 to make it 2-2 before any of the other matches were past the second frame!

When they returned, Tom had the first chance but with blue, pink and black all tied up it was always going to be difficult to score a great deal. Unfortunately for the man from Leicester though, when he did miss he not only left Mark in amongst the reds, but he had made the pink available and made things a lot easier for the Welshman. Though he was to need another couple of chances, he duly went on to take the frame and move into a 3-2 lead.


A relaxed Mark Williams, at this stage 7-2 up against Tom Ford

Unfortunately for Tom, a pattern was beginning to be set as although he was competing well with Mark in the safety department and indeed with the long-range efforts, he was not making the most of his chances when he got in. A missed black in the sixth frame again gave Mark the upper hand and moving into a 4-2 lead, he was beginning to really flow now and an 80 in the next moved him up to 5-2.

Better was to come in frame eight however as he played some terrific positional shots on the way to a stunning total clearance of 145. It was a real exhibition and floating balls in from all over the table as he was, Tom could do little to respond and a 72 from Mark put him 7-2 in front and surely he could not lose from there.

As an aside, at this point I decided to try and get a photo of Mark, particularly as he has always managed to avoid me in my four previous visits to the Crucible Theatre for the World Championship. Today though he was fine, initially not standing for a photo because he wanted to put his cue away and get changed, before coming back down and happily standing, as well as signing a few old programmes for someone else. His typically dry sense of humour was in evidence as he remarked “these must be old, I was in the programme back then.”


Having seen the pattern continue at the start of play tonight with Tom not taking his chances and Mark doing just about enough, it looked like the match might not make the interval at 8-2. Fair play to Tom though, his long-potting was superb and for the first time he started to score well when in amongst the balls, runs of 88 and 43 getting the scoreline back to 8-4. He had gave himself the first chance in the next frame too but a missed red with the rest down the side cushion on 16 was to prove costly as Williams stepped in to move 9-4 ahead at the break with a 73.

The writing was on the wall now and despite a gutsy 52 in frame 14, Williams was soon in again to complete an excellent win and all but secure a return to the top 16, back where he surely belongs next season. For Tom it is a shame and sees his hopes of retaining a place in the top 48 come to an end, but having recently started working with leading coach Stephen Feeney, it is all about next season for him now as hopefully he will be able to unlock that potential that so clearly exists…

Ricky Walden 10-5 Anthony Hamilton

I did not see a great deal of this match, but the one frame that I did manage to catch in full was the final frame of the first session, one that proved to be the most significant of the day. Until this point it had been quite a topsy turvy match from what I can tell, Ricky starting off well and moving 3-1 ahead, before Ant came right back at him to level, only for Ricky to move two frames clear again.

At 5-3 therefore, the last frame was going to be crucial and as Hamilton moved 51-0 ahead, it looked like he would pull back to 4-5 and leave everything to play for going into the second session. After a failed attempt at a double from Anthony though, it was clear that Ricky had other ideas as he began to eat into that lead. The key shot was always going to be getting on or developing the final red, which had somehow formed a cluster with the yellow and the blue over to the left of the table.

In the end Ricky played a brilliantly-judged shot to just drop on the red to the yellow pocket in such a way that he could hold for the blue into the right centre and then from there hold for the yellow into the green pocket. It was a cracking clearance and seeing him come back to take the frame and lead 6-3, a decisive moment in the match.

Anthony did not give up I am sure but coming back from three frames down to someone playing as well as Walden was always going to be tough and so it proved and Ricky won to qualify for the Crucible for the first time. It is another excellent result for the Shanghai Masters winner and one that keeps his hopes of a top 16 place at the end of the season very much alive…

Liang Wenbo 10-3 Dave Harold

Jamie Burnett 10-6 Fergal O’Brien

I saw even less of these two matches however as on the far side of the arena I could not see anything going on and the match between Lee and Trump was just too compelling to leave I’m afraid.

I did however manage to see Wenbo’s clenched fist to the crowd when he won and what a match it was. I was fascinated to see how this one would unfold with the clash of styles presented, but in the end it seems to have been no contest as Dave just could not score well enough to stay close enough to his opponent to put any pressure on him. This means that while Dave is still in the top 16 provisionally, he will be looking over his shoulder now for the rest of the season and needing a good run in China if he is to stay there…

For Jamie Burnett it is a fabulous result as after the first session he was actually 6-3 down. Fergal will be shattered but for Jamie at least he is now well within the top 48 and has again managed to perform well despite the match-fixing investigation which still hangs over him from the UK Championship…

As for me, back to bed now and up in seven hours time to do it all over again!


Stephen Lee 10-8 Judd Trump
73-52, 26-75(66), 0-137(137), 0-76(76), 0-104(63), 1-90(52), 77-38, 47(42)-61(61), 63-44, 76(64)-36, 24-71(71), 75(52)-14, 113(43,70)-9, 76-49(43), 15-79(43), 84(40)-6, 112(63)-1, 62(59)-61(47)
Mark Williams 10-5 Tom Ford
68(52)-19, 32-69, 0-133(105), 76(76)-0, 67-32, 59-16, 80(80)-0, 145(145)-0, 72(72)-4, 75(51)-7, 23-88(88), 39-82(43), 73(73)-17, 4-64(52), 60-17
Dave Harold 3-10 Liang Wenbo
79(48)-29, 26-94(94), 13-76(49), 5-125(120), 1-100(100), 80(51)-1, 13-71(41), 38-74(68), 70(42)-55(55), 3-83(64), 33-67, 0-74(52), 9-76(76)
Fergal O’Brien 6-10 Jamie Burnett
79-67(67), 58-43, 68-30, 0-123(117), 70-13, 1-68(51), 77(67)-20, 23-66, 59-30. 56-65, 8-74(64), 17-84(42), 68-75, 22-69(68), 0-77(77), 27-74
Anthony Hamilton 5-10 Ricky Walden
62-26, 6-67, 47-80, 36-88, 80-29, 67(67)-15, 23-60, 0-93(93), 51-53, 18-100, 72(72)-9, 115(115)-5, 24-120(103), 4-91(90), 42-91