Crucible Diary 2010: Allen and Gould light up Crucible Theatre

Day seven at this year’s World Championship has seen arguably the best two performances of the event so far as Mark Allen and Martin Gould played some super stuff against Mark Davis and Neil Robertson…

Note that hopefully I will have time to post an updated photo gallery either later today or tomorrow…

Arriving slightly late due to arriving back very late the previous night I just about made it back for the mid-session interval during the Mark Allen match and found him to have already extended his lead to four frames at 8-4. When the match resumed it looked like we might be in for a 147 on Allen as he played some super shots on the way to a break of 73 but unfortunately he eventually ran out of position on the black and an attempted thin cut from baulk proved to be a shot too far.

Playing with a smile on his face as he has all tournament though he was not to be deterred and added the next two frames before Davis restored some pride with a run of 72 to finish the session. At 11-5 down though with Allen playing the way he was, the writing was very much on the wall.

Over on Table One meanwhile an incredible story was developing as Martin Gould had raced into a 6-0 lead against one of the fancied men for the tournament, Neil Robertson. I saw precious little of the session but from the cheers and applause from the other side of the curtain, complete with THAT the sound of the ball hitting the back of the pocket as sweetly as it can, it was obvious that he was playing out of his skin. Neil did however take the last couple to get himself back into the match and set things up nicely for the evening session.

Following the conclusion of the morning session at around 1pm there was little to do for the next half an hour, though I did see Martin and Mark Allen outside the venue, asking Allen when he would get the 147 to which he just smiled. After so many realistic attempts this week something tells me that it will not be too long in coming.

With little else going on I then decided to have a look at the CueZone to see if anything was happening and to my surprise found that Ronnie O’Sullivan with the help of Nigel Bond and Molly Newbold was judging the contenders for his Future Stars competition run in conjunction with Rileys. With a predictably large crowd there was little chance of getting close for a really good photo but I did manage to get a few all the same, God bless the zoom feature.

What we were really waiting for however was the resumption of the Higgins v Davis match which had captured the imagination of the Crucible crowd so spectacularly the night before. The sense of anticipation around the venue was very real and the question was could Steve maintain the level of performance that he had shown during the first session and put himself within touching distance of a place in the last eight, or would the defending champion show his class and drag himself back into contention?

Initially it looked like it would be the latter as John opened with a very tidy break of 78, but soon the mistakes from the previous night began to creep in and having got himself back to 6-4, found himself still four frames behind at the mid-session interval as missed blacks off the spot and reds with the rest proved to be his downfall. Steve did not look to be playing quite as well as during the first session but he did look good when in amongst the balls.

The first frame after the interval proved to be another scrappy affair but having just about won it, John then did look something like the real John Higgins with a break of 106 before adding the next to close to within just one frame for the first time since 3-2. Crucially however, Davis managed to edge the 16th frame to ensure that he would go into the final session with a two frame lead, a scoreline that both would have been reasonably content with given how the session had unfolded.

As an aside it was really interesting to see how long Steve was staying down on each and every shot for. Whether it was to help him maintain his own concentration or whether it was to try and send out some sort of message to Higgins I am not so sure but it appeared to be very deliberate. Like the previous night he was playing the crowd to a degree, the clenched first as he took the frame for 8-4 showing just how much this match means to him. I did manage to record his entrance to the arena on my camera, will pop it on YouTube when I get a spare few hours to upload it.

Over on the other side of the curtain meanwhile (the side of the curtain that I was actually on, though sat right between the two I focused on the Davis/Higgins match in truth), Graeme Dott put in a very solid performance to lead Stephen Maguire 7-1 at the end of the first session. The first frame which had gone to a re-spotted black almost set the tone for the rest of the session as Stephen played an awful opening shot to leave the black over the pocket, a gift gratefully received by Dott.

Following a further period of waiting (including an amusing moment outside when somebody asked Mark Allen’s mother who she wanted to win), the evening session began and I said to the person next to me that I didn’t expect the session to last for any longer than half an hour but that proved to be generous as Mark produced probably the two most fluent breaks of the Championship so far (131 and 101),  in consecutive frames to complete a 13-5 victory in 20 minutes. When was the last time that somebody won a match at the Crucible with two consecutive century breaks?

If that little cameo was impressive from Allen however, Martin Gould’s performance over on the other table once the curtain had lifted was absolutely breathtaking. Whilst Allen’s breaks were somehow what you would expect to see from a player, long red followed by some terrific shots around the black spot, Martin’s were unconventional to say the least as he hammered in long pot after long pot. A pink that he managed to fluke in off about four cushions at the end of one frame summed things up as the guy next to me said that he couldn’t miss even if he tried, and it genuinely felt like that out there. His final break to guarantee an incredible 11-5 lead was the icing on the cake though, a couple of well picked out plants complete with an excellent green had us talking for a long time afterwards while Neil looked frankly stunned.

Having seen how well Martin can play at the qualifiers I was not totally surprised to see it but given that this is the Crucible Theatre and he was up against one an opponent who I had expected to do well this year, it was impressive nonetheless.

Finally it was also interesting to hear Clive Everton commentating on the match given what he had told me the other day. Presumably with Davis winning and actually practising, they realised that they need him after all…