Crucible Diary 2014: Day Nine

WalkerDay nine in Sheffield as two of the ties of the second round got underway this morning, involving former Crucible champions Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy, while Dominic Dale could conceivably win later this afternoon, needing six frames from eight against Michael Wasley…

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Right from the moment that the draw for the final stages of this year’s World Championship was released last month, the potential last 16 tie to catch my eye was that between Neil Robertson and Mark Allen, a match-up that for me would be more than fitting for a final, never mind a last 16 match.

That being the case, I was always going to be in the arena for that one and it proved to be a session that lived up to the hype, by far the most entertaining that I have seen up close so far at this year’s World Championship. Though I again forgot to take my pen and paper into the arena, there were a number of moments and themes that struck me while watching.

For Neil, I hadn’t not actually realised it, but aside from his opening round match at the UK Championship earlier this season, it has been a couple of years since I really watched him live. Immediately, what most struck me about him in the early frames was his focus and his manner around the table. Ronnie O’Sullivan often refers to a player ‘looking good around the table’ and these days Neil is right up there with the best in that department.

As for Mark Allen, regulars at his matches will know that these days there is probably no other player who interacts with the crowd and even his opponent as much as he does. Despite the way that he has been portrayed by the media in recent years, some of it self-inflicted, I have always found him to be one of the nicest guys on tour and win or lose, his matches are rarely short on entertainment.

Interestingly though, Neil was not going to be drawn into it, clearly he did not want to let his focus be affected by getting involved in joking with the Mark or the crowd, quite understandably I think.


It was a tight session throughout, both looking good when in the balls, though missing the odd ball, particularly before the mid-session interval. There were a couple of brilliant steals from Robertson, notably a 98th century break of the season from the Australian in frame, five coming after Allen had broken down on 40 having taken the first five reds with blacks.

With the ton of tons now looming large, the crowd were really getting into it, giving Robertson a loud cheer together with the customary Crucible applause. As strange as it sounds, as Neil completed what was not a straight-forward clearance, giving each ball his maximum concentration, the atmosphere was almost akin to that of a 147 chase, no doubt it will be very special to be in there if he does have a chance on 99 to make the historic 100th century break.

An even better steal was to come in the penultimate frame, but breaks of 92, 82 and 62 from Allen during the session helped to ensure that the Northern Irishman, much improved from his opening match against Michael Holt, would come out level at 4-4.

While the action itself was entertaining, there were a couple of off-table moments during the match that helped to lighten the mood, the first coming when Mark finished hampered in the middle of the reds, joking to himself that he wished that he was a bit taller.


As he then cued up his next shot, one of the cameramen whispered loudly to his colleague that ‘he said he wishes he was a bit taller!’ – prompting referee Brendan Moore to glance over and Mark Allen to turn around and make a joke out of it. as he explained during the mid-session interval, the cameraman was relaying the quote to his colleague to pass up to the commentators, but with his earphones on had not realised quite how loud he was!

A funnier moment still came though when a couple of frames later as Mark was about to play another shot, Eirian Williams, who as marker was scoring the match in front of the commentary box, couldn’t hold a sneeze in any longer. Allen joked that it was nice timing, before adding that was why they had given Brendan the final this year, referring of course to match referee Brendan Moore, who will officiate his first Crucible final a week from now.

Over on table one, Shaun Murphy and Marco Fu also shared out their opening eight frames, the stand out frame being the third, which Marco remarkably won having needed three snookers, Murphy then having potted the green, before the 2005 world champion then added the brown, only to go in-off and let Fu back to the table to clear.

With blogging to do, I opted not to head into the arena for the afternoon session, but wanted to be in the arena for the walk-ons and in particular, a minute’s applause for Paul Hunter, on the tournament’s regular Paul Hunter day which takes place on the second Sunday of each World Championship.


As ever, Paul was given a terrific standing ovation, lasting for what I understand was around one minute and 40 seconds, stopping only because the BBC were due to go on air just seconds later.

I also recorded a video of the player’s four walk-ons, Dominic Dale looking to stop and have a conversation with MC Rob Walker during the middle of the introductions – only here would do that. Click here to watch the walk-ons.

Elsewhere this afternoon, the biggest topic of discussion in the media room has been the football, with most eyes on today’s crucial match between Liverpool and Chelsea, eventually won 2-0 by Chelsea. Among those watching was Everton fan John Parrott, who was in here right up until having to go on air on commentary of this afternoon’s snooker, as well during the mid-session interval.

Back on the baize, Ryan Day threatened to get back into it against Judd Trump, but it was the 2011 runner-up who took three of the last four frames to maintain his four-frame lead heading into tomorrow’s final session.

Closer still to a place in his second Crucible quarter-final is Dominic Dale, who 14 years on from his previous appearance in the last eight in Sheffield, moved to within one frame of victory at 12-4 against Michael Wasley. To his credit, Michael avoided the ignominy of defeat with a session to spare by claiming two of today’s eight frames, but defeat looks to be inevitable now when they resume tomorrow afternoon at 1pm.

And so back to the two matches that began this morning, as they resumed again at 7pm. As mentioned above, I headed back in for Robertson against Allen and it proved to be another captivating session, world number one Robertson emerging with a two frame lead at 9-7.


It had a very different feel to the morning session however, far less banter (though still a couple of moments from Mark), and much more tension. It suddenly felt like the serious phase of the match had now started and perhaps surprisingly, it was Robertson who I felt looked to be the more vulnerable of the two. I felt that the run of the ball was somewhat against him, but Allen too looked the more likely to take advantage of the chances that came his way as evidenced by breaks of 71, 77 and 84 during the session.

That being the case, it made it all the more impressive that Robertson was able to win the session, including the final three frames from 7-6 down. In particular, a clearance of 25 that although started with a fluked green, contained a fantastic long pink along the way. I could count the players I would have fancied to make that shot on one hand, but looking at Allen holding his towel in his chair, I got the feeling that he knew exactly what was coming.

It would not have been a Robertson session without a century break and having fallen behind at 7-6, he was to produce his 99th ton of the season, a magnificent 137 to spark that three frame winning streak. as much as Allen still remains very much in the match, I worry for him that Robertson might have had his poor session (his pot success was down at 83% after four frames this evening), yet still emerged with a lead and may be even stronger still tomorrow. We shall see.

Just minutes after making his 137, over on table one Marco Fu was busy compiling a similar break of 136, to close to 9-7 down against 2005 champion Shaun Murphy. It had been a strong start to the session for Murphy, who won the opening four frames to lead 8-4, before Fu fought back to stay in touch heading into the conclusion of that match tomorrow evening.

As was the case last Thursday, tomorrow there will be no morning session, with the action resuming at 1pm and the second round concluding from 7pm.