YORK snooker fans are seeing an inspired player who could be spearheading a new generation of talent.

That's the view of one of the greatest players in the history of the game.

Six-times world and UK champion Steve Davis was full of praise for Stephen Maguire after being well beaten 9-2 by the 23-year-old Scot in the third round of the Travis Perkins UK Snooker Championship at the Barbican Centre last night.

Twice in the past two weeks Maguire has beaten reigning world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan and last week he sent former world and UK champion John Higgins packing only four days after having lost to the Wizard of Wishaw in the British Open final in Brighton.

The world number 24 from Glasgow is now hot favourite to take the UK trophy on Sunday.

His next hurdle is a quarter-final tomorrow against world number nine Stephen Lee, who knocked out former world champion Peter Ebdon on Monday.

"He is inspired," Davis said of Maguire. "He is pretty clinical clearing the balls. He strikes the ball around the table with great authority and confidence.

"There may be another generation of players on the way. I don't mean that the likes of Ronnie O'Sullivan, Stephen Hendry and John Higgins are done and dusted, but a new generation is coming through.

"Two years ago no-one in snooker thought Maguire was going anywhere, but now he is playing the best snooker of his life.

"It is going to take some performance to beat him this week. I don't sense anyone in the same zone as him."

Maguire admitted that having reached a quarter-final and a final so far this season and now got to the last eight in York he feels he is on the way to the top.

"I think I'm on the road to bigger things and it's about time I won an event," he said.

Although Davis trailed 3-1 at the first interval he could just as well have been 3-1 up. But he made errors along the way in the early tactical duel and the Scot took full advantage, completing the job clinically.

Cambridgeshire's Joe Perry won the East Anglian derby against Barry Pinches, of Norwich, 9-8 after Pinches had made a 97 break to take the match to a decider.

Perry's quarter-final against Allister Carter, who beat Yorkshire's Paul Hunter on Monday, finishes tonight.

David Gray, who made a 147 maximum break last week, overcame his regular practice partner Barry Hawkins 9-6 to earn a quarter-final against Scot Graeme Dott, this year's World Championship beaten finalist, finishing tonight.

In the early hours of this morning a sizeable crowd stayed on to watch Mark King grind his way to a deciding last-frame win over Scotsman Alan McManus.

Updated: 10:08 Wednesday, November 24, 2004