Mark Allen won his first Northern Ireland Open title after beating John Higgins 9-8 in a dramatic final, taking the final three frames to cement the win.
Allen, whose best previous performance in his home event was reaching the quarter-finals in 2016, capped a memorable week which included hitting a 147 in the first round before coming back from 3-0 down to stun three-time defending champion Judd Trump in the quarter-finals.
In the first session, it appeared that Higgins was struggling for momentum – with the score line at 4-3 in Allen’s favour and having the run of the balls in the eighth frame, it appeared that the Northern Irish player would enter the evening session with a two-frame advantage. But Allen missed on 58 in the final frame, and, after Higgins won a battle over a loose red, he made a phenomenal clearance to level at 4-4.
The duo shared the next four frames – Allen took the opening frame after a brilliant long red lead to a break of 70, and Higgins then levelled with a break of 63. A missed red saw Allen built a break of 85, but solid safety play by Higgins helped him move the score line to 6-6.
At this point, Higgins inched ahead for the first time in the match. A long red set up a break of 64, and it proved enough to take frame 13 after Allen missed a black with the rest. In frame 14, Higgins produced his highest break of the match, producing a 136 clearance after Allen failed to land on a red having been trapped behind the yellow. This moved him to within one frame of victory, but Allen fought back in style.
To beat John here is a dream come true for me
– Mark Allen
In a cagey frame 15, Allen secured victory after a series of visits – he kept potting reds, but failed to land on colours. His response was to keep putting the four-time world champion in trouble and pick off balls when he returned to the table, a strategy that worked well. Higgins had a chance in frame 16, but he missed a difficult black – Allen won the safety game, and took the frame 59-43. It came down to a final frame decider – Higgins got off the blocks first with a break of 27, but Allen capitalised on a missed red and set up a title-winning clearance.
After his win, Allen said: “I don’t usually get past round one here so it is a real bonus. I have tried to play it down all week, but I know what this means to me, and I know what it means to the people here, so to win this trophy is a special moment that I will never forget.
“I cannot actually believe it because from 6-5 up I didn’t see a ball until I was 8-6 down. I was just hoping for a chance in the last frame and I managed to take two chances to get it done. I wanted to play one of the all-time greats in Belfast and John is right up there and he is one of the nicest guys you are ever likely to meet. To beat John here is a dream come true for me.”
The win is Allen’s sixth ranking title, and his first since a 9-7 win over Shaun Murphy at the 2018 Scottish Open.