O’Connor stuns Allen to reach Players Championship quarter-finals

O’Connor stuns Allen to reach Players Championship quarter-finals

Ben Snowball

Joe O’Connor stunned top seed Mark Allen in a huge upset on the opening day of the 2023 Players Championship in Wolverhampton.

The 27-year-old was the lowest-ranked player in the draw but backed up his run to the English Open final in December – a run that included wins over Neil Robertson, Mark Williams and Zhao Xintong – with a brilliant 6-3 victory over the UK Championship and Northern Ireland Open champion.

With Ronnie O’Sullivan and Robertson among those failing to qualify for the showpiece tournament at Aldersley Leisure Village, Allen headed into the event among a small group of favourites also containing Judd Trump and Mark Selby.

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But he was left to rue sloppy positional play as he repeatedly failed to convert a flurry of openings into one-visit frames, allowing O’Connor to pinch multiple frames and seal a spot in the quarter-finals.

O’Connor got mission improbable underway with a fine red into the middle pocket in the first frame. A tidy break of 63 followed and although he was left frustrated after failing to split the remaining reds, he soon thundered home a shot-to-nothing to pinch the opener.

Allen led 42-3 in the second frame when he allowed O’Connor back to the table, watching as his unfancied opponent found the left middle again to kickstart another break. A 64 contribution followed, featuring a masterful positional shot off the yellow that arced down below the black to land on the green, and he was soon celebrating a two-frame lead as Allen conceded chasing snookers.

The third frame came down to a protracted safety battle on the final red, before the stalemate was eventually lifted when O’Connor rifled a half-chance home from distance. Still trailing by 11, O’Connor needed to clear to the pink to take the frame – and he did precisely that as project implausible suddenly looked alive at 3-0.

Allen again became unstuck in the fourth frame after getting a poor run after charging into the pack. He recovered with a lovely thin red into the middle pocket and set off in pursuit of his 41st century of the season, only to fail in his attempt to knock the penultimate red off the cushion, leaving him stranded on 85. Still, he headed into the interval in better spirits, with the deficit cut to 3-1.

The Northern Irishman marked the resumption with a nice long red but the fifth frame soon turned cagy after he lost the cue ball again. After some safety jousting, O’Connor seized the opportunity when it arrived and built a smart 66 break to move 4-1 ahead – displaying composure Allen so desperately craved.

Allen responded with a 91 in the sixth, a break not without drama after yet more positional woe, as he hinted at a revival. But a magnificent total clearance of 132 from O’Connor, featuring two break-defining long-range reds, saw the Leicester potter move one frame from victory.

The runaway leader on the one-year list delayed defeat after dominating the eighth frame, but a steely clearance to the black from O’Connor in the ninth frame saw him across the line for one of the biggest wins of his career.

In the session’s other match, Ryan Day, now the top seed after Allen’s surprise exit, saw off Chris Wakelin 6-2.

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