ROBIN HULL completed a fairytale return to the Crucible with a 10-8 victory over Peter Ebdon in the final qualifying round of the Dafabet World Championship at Ponds Forge in Sheffield on Wednesday night.

Hull, Finland’s only professional, had previously played in the televised phase in 2002 but shortly afterwards was struck down with a virus which seriously affected his balance. Hull was later diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and retired from the professional circuit in 2008. He returned last year after winning the European amateur title.

“I’m happy, just so very happy,” Hull said. “My career was over. I’m actually playing with a cue a friend bought me as I’d sold mine. I didn’t play for a year and a half but it’s in the blood and I’ve been practising hard for six months.

“I haven’t been able to play a whole season because of financial stuff but I’m so happy to be competing.

“The illness has given me a perspective on the game. It’s so easy to get into a mental rut and I was definitely in one of them. Now the enjoyment is at a different level and with that the pressure is easier to deal with.”

The defeat denied Ebdon a 23rd successive Crucible appearance, the 2002 champion having previously played there every year as a professional.

He fought back from 9-6 down to 9-8 but Hull made a resolute 57 break to clinch victory.

Hull is a player well regarded by his fellow pros but self deprecating about his own achievements. He said: “It’s black and white to me: you either win or you don’t, and I don’t. But it’s nice of them to say those things.”

Martin Gould held off Liang Wenbo 10-7 to book his place in the first round draw. The Pinner potter compiled successive breaks of 114 and 137 in building a 3-0 lead, saw his 8-5 advantage reduced to 8-7 but battled through.

“It was a strange game. I came out of the blocks like a steam train this morning, then fell asleep and then woke up again. It was a mixture of everything. At 8-7 I made a good break and then I knew I’d finish him off.

“This round is horrible. No one who plays snooker down the club will ever, ever know what the feeling is out there. I can’t wait now for the Crucible. If I can turn up like I have in some of these matches then someone is in for a treat.”

Robbie Williams ensured he would become the fourth debutant at the Crucible this year, after Kyren Wilson, Xiao Guodong and Michael Wasley, following a remarkable comeback against Fergal O’Brien.

Williams, a second season professional from Wallasey, trailed 7-2 after the first session but eventually prevailed 10-9 on a re-spotted black following a lengthy exchange on the extra ball.

Photographs by Monique Limbos.