It was a bitter-sweet day for me watching the Champion of Champions. Sweet because, for most of the day, Ronnie played extremely well and looked focused. Bitter not so much because he lost but because the way it all finished.
Mark Allen knocked Ronnie O’Sullivan out of the 888sport Champion of Champions, winning 6-3 at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes, live on ITV4.
The Antrim man was on top form in the Group 3 final, but the match will be remembered for a prolonged verbal clash between the two players during the last frame. O’Sullivan, trailing 5-3, felt that his opponent had been moving in his eyeline and made his case for over a minute. Allen denied any wrongdoing and eventually O’Sullivan was persuaded by referee Marcel Eckardt to play his next shot. He missed a red to a top corner and Allen made a clearance of 66 to advance to the semi-finals, where he’ll meet Judd Trump on Saturday evening.
“I finished the match well in the afternoon so had some positives to hang onto coming into tonight,” said Allen. “I knew I would need to play better and I did. I only really missed one shot in the balls, a black at 1-1. Other than that, it was a decent performance and my long game came on as the match went on.
“I’m not getting ahead of myself, it’s just one win. I came here to win the tournament and I knew I had two tough matches ahead of me to get through today and it doesn’t get any harder than Judd Trump in the semi-finals but that is what you want – to play the top players in the biggest tournaments on the biggest stage.
“I think Ronnie just got into his own head. He was taking forever on shots for the previous frame and a half, I left him touching ball a few times and he was taking forever over them. He was taking two minutes to decide to put me back on one of them and was never taking anything on. I think he was just looking for an excuse if anything went wrong.
“To accuse me of moving on his shots and standing in his eyeline, it’s just crazy. Even Marcel, the referee, said ‘Mark, I know you haven’t don’t anything but let’s just play the game’, that’s all I really needed to hear, it put me at ease. I wasn’t going to back down from Ronnie. He is a great snooker player, the best ever in my opinion, but sometimes he lets himself down with what he does and what he says. I wasn’t going to let that go because I knew I was in the right.”
Asked about the altercation, O’Sullivan said: “When someone is continuously in your eyeline and when you are on a shot and he’s moving, maybe I read a bit too much into it, but it just seemed a little bit like stuff you do down the snooker club when you’re an amateur and you are trying to get into your opponent’s head or trying to put him off. I thought, I’m going to pull you up on it, I’m not going to let it go. There’s no point letting it go and he carries on doing it, so I just thought get it out of the way and it’s done. But he deserved his victory.
“That’s why I was just taking my time on certain shots, I thought I’m not going to play this shot until you actually sit down in your chair. I could have said something then but I thought, hopefully you get the message, and he kind of did because he sat down. Then when I was playing the shot he started ripping his logo off so I thought I have to have a word with him. There are no hard feelings, he played better tonight, he played fantastic and deserved his victory but sometimes you just have to say something and get it out of the way.”
The break building was clinical in the group final. Allen opened with a 78 before O’Sullivan went one better and levelled with a 79. The Rocket then moved ahead with a 91 but the players headed to the mid-session locked at 2-2 after Allen made a 102 in the fourth.
O’Sullivan regained the lead in the fifth before the Antrim man levelled again – he potted 13 reds and 13 blacks before missing a tricky 14th red to a centre pocket, his break ending at 104. He was visibly disappointed that his 147 attempt broke down, but Allen was in the ascendancy nonetheless and took the next three frames to book his place in the last four.
Earlier, O’Sullivan had defeated Michael Holt 4-1. The Hitman, in the event as Shoot Out champion, took the opening frame with a 107, but O’Sullivan was giving little away and took the next four frames to win inside 50 minutes.
Allen came through a close battle against Scott Donaldson in his group semi-final, making a 125 in the last frame to win 4-3.
The first semi-final of the 888sport Champion of Champions takes place on Friday as defending champion Neil Robertson takes on Mark Selby over 11 frames from 6:45pm, live on ITV4.
Ronnie O’Sullivan 4-1 Michael Holt
0-107 (107), 96-5 (65), 86-14 (86), 71-0 (71), 136-0 (87)
Mark Allen 4-3 Scott Donaldson
0-80 (65), 99-33 (64), 68-75 (Allen 55), 78-14 (54), 15-59, 48-10, 125-0 (125)
Ronnie O’Sullivan 3–6 Mark Allen
5-78 (78), 79-0 (79), 95-37 (91), 1-102 (102), 77-11 (51), 0-104, 10-73, 0-74 (74), 72-26 (66)
Here are the stats for the Ronnie versus Michael Holt match:
After the match the Neal Foulds ans Alan McManus reflected how Ronnie still played “youthful” snooker. He still goes for his shots like he did when he was 16.
Mark Allen played OK in the afternoon, but Scott could have won this match had he been able to keep his composure.
During the group final, in the evening, Mark Allen played extremely well. Ronnie didn’t play badly at all and gave it everything except towards the end of the last frame. Both players had a pot success rate over 90%.
Mark Allen was the better player and deserved the win. It was just a shame that a great match ended the way it did.
Now onto that incident…
Here is Ronnie protesting about Mark’s behaviour…
Now let’s have a look at a few screenshots taken during that phase of the frame (CCTV footage).
And this footage, where you see Allen moving whilst standing in Ronnie’s eyeline
In all but one of those images – taken during the long safety exchange in the last frame. just before Ronnie’s protest – you can see Mark Allen standing, and rather close to the table. In some pictues you only see his legs and feet, and the cue. The way they appear in the picture shows that he was not heading to his seat. He was standing there. You can also see that he definitely stood in Ronnie’s eyeline on some shots. So that wasn’t “crazy”, it was the truth and it went on for long minutes. Ronnie was 5-3 down, it was a critical frame for him.
In the one image where Mark is sat, you can see him fidgeting with his logo. That logo kept coming off, and eventually Marcel told him to just take it off and play without it. But even after that, it must have left sticky traces of glue on Mark’s waistcoat because he kept trying to remove something where the logo had stood. Did he do it when Ronnie was on the shot? Yes, that could be seen for a second in the ITV footage.
Was is gamesmanship from Mark? I don’t think so. That’s not like the Mark Allen I know for years.
Was Ronnie right in his protest? Yes and no. Yes, because indeed Mark wasn’t sitting in his chair, as he is supposed to do, and stood in his eyeline repeatedly during a critical phase of the match. No, because he shouldn’t have waited until his frustration was boiling over, and he shouldn’t have tried to deal with the situation himself. Instead, he should have asked Marcel to intervene, ask Mark to return to his seat and stay sat there when it was Ronnie’s turn at the table. If he was feeling the need to gather his toughts, calm down and regain his concentration, Ronnie could even have asked permission to leave the arena for a couple of minutes. There was a similar situation involving Jamie Clarke earlier in the season and that’s how it was “resolved”.
As it happened, Ronnie’s concentration and emotions were all over the place. He missed a very simple red and it cost him the frame and the match. He should have cleared from where he was, he would have earlier in the match, and it should have been 5-4. That doesn’t mean that he would have won the match. He would still have been behind, but at least, he would have had a chance …
And, as a final point regarding this whole incident, Marcel should have asked Mark to go and sit, even without Ronnie asking. That’s what players are supposed to do when their oppenent is at the table. It wasn’t just a one-off, it went on for long minutes. If, instead, he told Mark that he had done “nothing wrong”, that’s the crazy part.