MARK Allen eased into the quarter-finals of the Wyldecrest Parks Players Tour Championship Finals in Preston with a 4-1 win over regular practice partner Fergal O’Brien on Thursday.

The 28-year-old from Northern Ireland, a recent semi-finalist at the Haikou World Open where he was defending champion, looks to be coming back into form at a handy time.

World No15 Allen may yet see his seeding position for April’s World Championship alter this week at the Guildhall, depending on other results.

But for now he is fully focused on trying to win a third ranking title, and the £100,000 first prize – and was taking no chances despite being a big favourite against Dubliner O’Brien with plenty of pride at stake.

Allen said: “I knew I was playing well after my first-round match and scoring well, so I just had to be patient.

“I practice a lot with Fergal so I know what to expect, and he plays exactly the same in practice as matches, 100 per cent concentration even is a red over the pocket.

“Some players play deliberately slow but he is not one of them, it is just the way he plays. I felt a bit edgy at the start, maybe because we play so much.

“I have the upper hand in practice and you don’t want to see it go the other way in a big match. I A very happy to be through, on his day Fergal scores as well as anyone.

“It goes down to one table on Friday and I am just happy to be playing better again. I did well in Haikou again, and as long as I feel good that is the main thing.”

John Higgins made it a double celebration at in Preston – after watching his beloved Celtic clinch the Scottish Premier League title on Wednesday night.

The four-time world champion moved into the last eight with a 4-2 win over Leicester’s Ben Woollaston.

Higgins, 38, will now take on Marco Fu on Friday for a place in the semi-finals after the in-form Hong Kong player beat Wales’s Mark Williams by the same score.

And world No10 Higgins is delighted his form is returning with the World Championships at the Crucible now just three weeks away.

Higgins said: “Most of the pubs in Preston were showing the Liverpool game on Wednesday, but I managed to find one with Celtic on to at least see them winning the title.

“We are playing for a lot of money here and trying to hit form before the World Championships, so it’s nice to be in the quarter-finals and doing okay.

“I am nearly there, almost at the point where I am playing really well. I am feeling 10 times better than I was a couple of months ago, even when I lose.

“There were some nerves out there today – and the table was playing very heavy, much slower than for my first match. I don’t know if it is the weather, or what.

“But I had a bit of luck and Ben got a few kicks at bad moments. But that is what happens in these best of sevens, they are short and fast, and you hopefully you get over the line.

“After Ronnie O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson and Ding Junhui Marco has been as consistent as anyone in the past 18 months or so.

“He goes under the radar a bit with people outside snooker, but we all know how good a player he is, and I will have to play better to beat him.

“He doesn’t shout the odds and when he gets on a roll he is very difficult to stop.”

In the other last-16 match played in the afternoon Joe Perry beat Mark Selby’s conqueror David Gilbert 4-1.


Photographs by Monique Limbos