Super Mark Allen keeps home fires burning with Open win
Mark Allen delighted the big crowd at the Waterfront Hall last night with a power-packed 4-0 whitewash against Jamie O'Neill in the 19.com Northern Ireland Open.
The Ulsterman is back in action tomorrow afternoon when World No.29 Scott Donaldson should provide him with his first real test in the £405,000 showpiece tournament.
Allen has made no secret of his desire to finally land his home event and has said he is totally focused on the task, even staying in a hotel rather than his own home.
Local player Jordan Brown - Allen's practice partner - exited the tournament at the hands of 2015 world champion Stuart Bingham on a 4-1 scoreline.
Brown had beaten the experienced James Wattana in the first round, but on-form Bingham - who hit a maximum 147 break in the previous round - proved too strong.
Ronnie O'Sullivan was given a scare by 16-year-old wonderkid Lei Peifan, the five-time world champion eventually triumphing 4-2.
The teen sensation took the first frame with a break of 87.
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O'Sullivan grabbed the next thanks to a break of 92 after Lei missed a yellow.
The Londoner surged ahead but then came a real tournament highlight as Lei made it 2-2 with his first ever professional century break.
But O'Sullivan used all his experience to take the next two frames and book a return to action this afternoon.
Mark Selby stayed on course for the £1m bonus for the winner of all four Home Nations events - he triumphed in the English Open in Crawley earlier this season - with a 4-1 victory over former Crucible runner-up Matthew Stevens.
The series also includes next month's Scottish Open and the Welsh Open, which takes place in February.
The experienced Welshman took the first frame, but the three-time world champion took over from then on with breaks of 87, 41 and 53 to book a meeting in the last-32 with Luca Brecel, who beat Matthew Selt 4-0.
World champion Judd Trump raced into a two-frame lead against Zhang Anda.
The World No.1 dropped the next before wrapping up a 4-1 victory in his defence of the Alex Higgins Trophy, Trump having beaten O'Sullivan 9-7 in last year's decider.
Trump faces Si Jiahui this afternoon.
Dublin's former world champion Ken Doherty defeated Soheil Vahedi 4-0, while Yan Bingtao got the better of Marco Fu 4-1. Experienced Ali Carter edged out Li Hang 4-3.
Stephen Maguire - conqueror of Ulsterman Declan Lavery in the opening round - overcame Mark Davis 4-2 and Kyren Wilson defeated Peter Ebdon 4-1.
Barry Hawkins beat Michael Holt 4-3 in a thriller.
Holt had the chance of a clearance that would have given him victory, but Hawkins got over the line.
Organisers have been happy with the size of the crowds flocking to the Waterfront Hall so far, and although the venue has yet to reach capacity, if the big names remain in contention for the £70,000 top prize then tickets are expected to become like gold dust as the weekend action approaches.
The home fans would obviously love to see an Allen success, and victory on Sunday night would be the perfect launching pad for the Antrim cueman's season, with the UK Championship just around the corner and Masters - which he won last year - coming up fast in January.
Then comes the climax to the season with the 33-year-old's bid for a first ever World title at the Crucible.
NI's last world champion Dennis Taylor, who triumphed over Steve Davis in the famous 1985 black ball final, feels this could be the season when Allen finally lands the ultimate prize.
"I was in my 30s when I became world champion and Mark certainly has the game to take the title," said legend Taylor.