The second semi-final of the Champion of Champions takes place in Bolton on Saturday evening as Judd Trump will find out who he faces in the final when John Higgins goes up against Mark Allen in a juicy looking clash.
These two men are certainly no strangers to competing in big matches and going on and winning the biggest events and with both having looked in good nick in their opening groups this one is setup to be another great game.
You get the feeling that John Higgins is knocking on the door of his best form and it isn’t going to be too much longer before it opens for him. If he could hold onto a lead then he would probably have already won something this term, but as ever timing is everything and if he has waited until this time of year he is likely to win something very big with the UK Championship to follow this event should he not come through here and on Sunday.
Higgins looked in awesome form in his group. Only he will know if he was motivated by the withdrawal of Ronnie O’Sullivan at the last minute but he cruised past Chris Wakelin in the opening match and Ding Junhui was able to offer little in the way of resistance in the group final. Higgins made an 80 break or more in every frame that he won in that final against Ding and his form can often be aligned to his scoring so that bodes well for him here.
I think it is fair to say that arriving in Bolton for this tournament it hadn’t been the best campaign so far for Mark Allen but he certainly looked to turn that around when he breezed through his group and if he has that level with him here then he is entitled to be a very dangerous challenger in this semi-final. The one thing he might need to prove is that he does still have that with him because he won the Monday group so six days between matches is quite a long time in the one event.
Allen was probably never going to be too troubled by Jimmy White in the first round and once he adjusted to the table and the conditions he breezed through that but it was his win over an in form Ali Carter in the group final which caught the eye. Allen made two tons and a 98 in that match to go with the ton he made in beating the Whirlwind so his scoring looks to be in good order. He’ll need it to be here too because not many better Higgins in the tactical department.
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These two have faced each other on 20 previous occasions and it is Mark Allen who holds a narrow 11-9 advantage but in a weird quirk it is John Higgins who has a 106-99 frame lead in the frame count. That obviously tells us that when Higgins wins it is fairly comfortable but when it goes tight Allen gets over the line. This will be their sixth semi-final against each other. Higgins leads 3-2 in their previous ones. This will be their first meeting in the Champion of Champions but they have faced each other in seven best of 11 encounters. Allen leads 5-2 in those matches so history slightly favours the man from Northern Ireland.
I don’t see there being a huge amount between these two and so the 6/5 on Mark Allen to win this one feels a little big. Whenever you get a heavyweight showdown like this between two top players you tend to have to dig a little to find out what could separate them and the truth is there isn’t a great deal. The one which might sort them out is the fact that Higgins tends to get to this stage of an event and then get the collywobbles.
Higgins has lost his last four semi-finals. The last three of them have been over this distance and he got to five first in each of them and couldn’t get over the line. He was also 5-2 up on Ronnie O’Sullivan in Shanghai earlier in the season in the quarter final and lost 6-5. He has had trouble converting leads in huge matches ever since Neil Robertson came from 9-4 down to beat him in the Tour Championship final 10-9 last year, although you could argue this goes back to the Northern Ireland Open final of 2021 where he led Allen 8-6 before losing 9-8 and would go on and do the same to Neil Robertson at the English Open the same season. I couldn’t be trusting Higgins with a lead particularly when we know Allen won’t give in. I don’t see much between them but that could be the difference so I’ll take Allen to win here.
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