RONNIE O’Sullivan was handed a Crucible lifeline last night – just when it looked as if hopes of a hat-trick of world titles and a sixth in all were fast disappearing over the horizon.

The Rocket trails world No15 Joe Perry 9-7 in their Dafabet World Championship last-16 clash in Sheffield.

Having lost his first session in two years on Thursday, defending champion and red-hot title favourite O’Sullivan again looked well below par.

But in a dramatic and tense last frame of the day the 38-year-old O’Sullivan snatched it on the brown to cling on to aspirations of joining Steve Davis on half a dozen triumphs.

Perry, 39, has only beaten O’Sullivan once in a major event in a 23-year professional career – but is coming off his best ever season.

The man known as ‘Gentleman Joe’ on tour won the Yixing Open in China last summer – and reached the semi-finals of the Welsh Open.

However few had given him a prayer against a player who has won the Masters, Champion of Champions and Welsh Open titles this term despite limited appearances.

O’Sullivan raced out of the traps with a 93 break after trailing 5-3 overnight – but that proved a false dawn as Perry hit him with runs of 68, 48, 46, 63, 88 and 73 to move 9-6 up.

Perry had held himself together admirably throughout the entire match until that 16th frame – and for that reason he will rue misses and loose shots in the last of the day.

The difference between a lead of 10-6 and the current one of 9-7 may just prove pivotal in the final analysis as he seeks to pull off a huge shock.


Photographs by Monique Limbos