Like the applause that greets a spectacular pot, top level snooker exploded on its return to York. STEVE CARROLL reviews how the williamhill.com UK Championship was won 12 months ago.
IT was fitting that it should have come down to this. Judd Trump, the game’s most aggressive attacking player and the new darling of the game, against Mark Allen, whose war of words with World Snooker chief Barry Hearn had turned blue off the table.
The pair fought out a brilliant final at York’s Barbican as a packed house saw a thrilling conclusion to a wonderful return to the city of the game’s second biggest tournament following a six-year absence.
The two players had been the biggest stories of the week.
Trump was nearly out at the first hurdle – needing two outrageous flukes to rescue him from a 4-2 deficit against Dominic Dale in round one – while Allen, who had a fairly serene passage with a 6-3 win against Adrian Gunnell, lived up to his nickname ‘Pistol’ by shooting down Hearn in the post-match press conference.
His diatribe, which included a four-letter word and was a rant about the change in format in the early rounds to best-of-11 frame matches, later saw him receive slapped wrists for his bad language but the furore, which continued when he turned up for the after-match festivities following a second round 6-2 win over Ali Carter with tape round his mouth, seemed to spur him on.
Trump competed in his own high-noon showdown in round two, a 6-5 win over Ronnie O’Sullivan that was a match of the highest quality. Trump fired efforts of 68, 64, 76, 98 and 51, while O’Sullivan racked up 85, 114, 83 and 69, in a wonderful spectacle of snooker.
The irony was that neither were satisfied with their performances.
Mark Selby, then the world number one, would get no further than the second stage – Marco Fu springing a 6-4 surprise – and the same fate befell Mark Williams, who lost 6-3 to Ricky Walden. John Higgins joined the list of high ranking seeds to exit. The defending champion fought poor form and a bad back manfully but went down 6-4 to Stephen Maguire.
The Scotsman makes no secret of his fondness for York, having won here in 2004, but even Maguire found a surging Trump too hot to handle in the last eight – yielding 6-3 without doing much wrong.
They call Shaun Murphy the Magician but the 2009 UK winner in Telford brought the wrong wand when he met Walden in their quarter-final clash. His indifferent form at the Barbican continued as Walden booked a berth in the last four with a 6-3 win.
There, he met Allen, who had edged past Marco Fu 6-5 following a nervy final frame, and the match, now over two sessions and a best-of-17 frame format which the Northern Irishman found more agreeable, was a game of two halves.
Walden had the best of the first and a major final looked likely when he came away with a 5-3 lead. But Allen came back in stunning form, reeling off the first four frames on his way to a 9-7 win.
Trump, meanwhile, had to come through a tense encounter with Australian Neil Robertson. The ex-world champion used every tactic in the book to frustrate his fast potting opponent before falling 9-7.
And so the poster boy met the game’s bad boy with the UK crown on the line.
What a battle it was.
Allen started the better, taking a 3-1 lead, before Trump won seven frames in a row for an 8-3 advantage. But the ‘Pistol’ didn’t have an empty gun yet. In an incredible display of potting, the pair produced almost faultless snooker.
Trump hit breaks of 109, 78, 74, 76, while Allen scored with 139, 129, 125 and 95. His 8-3 lead whittled down to 9-8, with Allen having hit three centuries in four frames to ramp up the pressure, it needed a composed cue to get the job done. And Trump provided it, a super cool 91 getting him over the line.
With record ticket sales, and a rousing finale, it was a remarkable return to York for top-class snooker. Here’s hoping the class of 2012 will turn out to be even better.