Home favourite falls at first hurdle to Niu Zhuang!!!
It was all too good to be true, at the end of the day.
Mark Allen, who has been in such good form of late, arrived back to Belfast after reaching the Champion of Champions semi-final at the weekend, full of hope that he could go deep into the 2018 Northern Ireland Open, in front of a partisan home crowd at the Waterfront.
Drawn against world number 90, Niu Zhuang, in the first round, not many felt he would struggle. But the Antrim man could find no rhythm in a limp performance that saw him crash out, four frames to one.
Trailing 2-0, Allen grabbed the third frame with a break of 88, but his Chinese opponent reapplied the pressure, taking the next frame and putting ‘The Pistol’ on the brink.
The fifth set was a nail-biter!
Zhuang opened up a sizeable lead, but with the balls scattered in difficult spots across the table, Allen always stood a chance of getting back into the frame, and match!
Allen looked to have done just that when Zhuang had left the second last red to the right middle. But on a strange day for the Northern Irishman, Allen chose to play a safety on the final red having dispatched the penultimate.
Fast forward a few minutes, and Zhuang played a deft shot to thin the red into the baulk corner pocket, and when Allen left an easy yellow coming out of a snooker, the 24 year-old only had to hold nerve to complete the biggest win of his career to date.
He didn’t make it easy on himself, letting slip his two-snooker advantage, before eventually closing out the hour-long frame, and leaving a raft of disappointed Ulster snooker fans in his wake.
Allen, will now look to the UK Championships at the end of the month, as he looks to end a good year on a high.
Zhuang will now play the winner of tommorow morning’s clash between Hertfordshire’s, Hammad Miah, and Egyptian, Basem Eltahhan.