Higgins and Allen level after superb Northern Ireland Open final first session

John Higgins and Mark Allen are locked at 4-4 after the first session of the Northern Ireland Open final in Belfast, with the Scot battling back to stay all square with the home favourite.

Allen won the opening two frames before a very even rest of the session, but Higgins stole the show with how he wrapped up the eighth and final frame of the afternoon.

63-0 down in the eighth, the Wizard of Wishaw got some points on the board, won a safety exchange and then produced a sparkling clearance full of difficult shots to head into the evening session all square.

Jimmy White told Eurosport: ‘That clearance was in the top five of any I’ve ever seen.’

While the scores are level, Higgins will be far the happier after the superb dish and will take some momentum into the remainder of the race to nine at 7pm.

There was a superb atmosphere in the Waterfront Hall, with both men receiving a rousing reception as they entered the arena, but local hero Allen understandably getting the louder cheer.

The Northern Irishman had never previously been past the quarter-finals of his home event, but did not appear to be feeling the nerves and pressure of the final as he quickly settled and got the first frame on the board, then doubled his lead with a break of 82 in the second.

The four-time world champion was never going to be flustered by an early deficit and made a sublime 123 to get his first frame of the day.

Neither man could gain any level of dominance over the other the rest of the session, with the next four frames shared as they took it in turns to add to their score and Higgins added a couple of half-centuries to his afternoon’s work.

Allen led 4-3 as the final frame of the session began and looked set to be taking a fantastic lead into the evening as he opened up a 63-0 surplus, but you can never, ever write off Higgins.

It took a couple of breaks, and an unusual safety exchange which threatened a very late re-rack, but the Wizard produced an incredible clearance to take the frame and end the session level.

‘I’ve never seen a clearance as good as that,’ Ronnie O’Sullivan told Eurosport after Higgins’ effort in the eighth. ‘Nobody in there would have expected that clearance, except maybe John.’

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