Mark Allen, a semi-finalist two years ago, pulled off one of the greatest comebacks late last night to keep his World Championship title hopes alive. The Ulsterman looked to be heading out of snooker's biggest tournament having slipped 9-6 down to Welshman Matthew Stevens in their first-round match here in Sheffield.
But from somewhere Allen, who is suffering with depression, rediscovered the confidence he needed to clinch a breathtaking 10-9 final frame victory. "I don't know how I've got through, that's got to be the biggest win of my career," reflected Allen.
"At 9-6 I was considering smashing the pack [of reds], but I changed my mind and from somewhere I found a 100 break and it spurred me on. I've always been a bit of a fighter, I never give up and that's just proved it."
Stevens was understandably left kicking himself having missed numerous opportunities to secure his passage through to the last-16 stage. But it will be Allen, the world No 11, who now faces Dartford's Barry Hawkins with a quarter-final place up for grabs.
Behind 5-4 overnight, Allen still fancied the job, but the 25-year-old struggled to find his flowing game as Stevens, a two-time Crucible finalist, forced the issue. But having won three frames on the spin to force a decider, Allen held his nerve, pocketed a pressure break of 45 and deservedly progressed.
Meanwhile, Graeme Dott, last season's beaten finalist, beat Mark King with a workmanlike 10-7 win which included breaks of 102, 63, 53, 59, 58 and 75.
His Scottish compatriot John Higgins, the triple world champion, will resume today 6-3 ahead of qualifier Stephen Lee for the concluding session of their first-round match. Higgins compiled three centuries – 132, 101 and 131 – and added further breaks of 56 and 70 to put himself in the driving seat.
Qualifier Martin Gould pulled off a great escape to upset Hong Kong's Marco Fu, this season's Wembley Masters runner-up, with a 10-8 win and set up a last-16 showdown with rising star Judd Trump. Fellow qualifier Rory McLeod kept his concentration in a gruelling seven-hour battle to send Ricky Walden packing with a 10-6 victory.