Mark Allen

Last Four in the Players Championship

Four top 16 players make up the final four in the Players Championship at Event City in Manchester.

Mark Allen Shaun Murphy Masters
Allen beat Murphy 6-4 in London – photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.

Shaun Murphy is bidding to become the first player since Ding Junhui to win consecutive ranking events after a 4-3 victory over Ben Woollaston.

The Englishman will face Mark Allen for a place in the final after the Northern Irishman defeated Mike Dunn 4-1.

In the other semi-final, 2014 champion Barry Hawkins is up against a resurgent Ricky Walden.

With all four competitors already assured of their automatic spots at the World Championship next month, there’ll be no distractions as each of them can focus solely on landing a big title this weekend.

For Murphy, the 33 year-old didn’t produce the kind of snooker that he had displayed in the previous rounds but just about did enough to earn an eighth straight victory on the tour.

Should the World Grand Prix champion prevail in a further two ties, he’ll be the first back-to-back ranking event winner since Ding won three in a row in 2013.

Against Allen, Murphy has a favourable head-to-head record with 11 victories to the 30 year-old’s five, although Allen did manage to triumph in their last encounter in this year’s Masters at Alexandra Palace.

Allen is a player who, while blessed with wonderful talent, has arguably underachieved in the game so far in his career.

The Antrim man has two ranking event titles to his name and several European Tour events to boot, but perhaps would have expected to acquire more silverware by this age.

One of Allen’s biggest flaws is his inconsistency to perform at the highest level, often within matches.

He can produce scintillating snooker to establish an early lead only to let his opponent back in, at which point his temperament appears to wilt.

If he could develop a cut-throat mentality when his A-game is on song, it would add an extra dimension to his game that would be increasingly difficult to overcome.

The first semi-final on Saturday is contested between two well-established top bracket players of the last number of seasons.

Both Hawkins and Walden dip in and out of form, but each have had a knack of coming from seemingly nowhere to feature at the business end of big events or even emerge victorious.

Neither has won a ranking event since 2014 but it doesn’t come as a surprise to see them featuring at this late stage of the competition.

Walden is enjoying a resurgence after a particularly desperate period which saw him lose in the early rounds of most tournaments this season – his one saviour being a run to the final of the only Asian Tour event which granted him qualification into the Players Championship.

The 33 year-old has taken full advantage while Hawkins will be pleased to be strongly defending the ranking points that he earned through victory in this event two years ago.

With that £100,000 set to come off his total, as well as the £55,000 that he won for reaching the semi-finals at the Crucible that same year, Hawkins could suffer a sudden slide down the rankings if he’s not careful.

Hawkins and Walden have met regularly throughout their careers, with the latter enjoying a narrow advantage in their head-to-head record.

However, their most high-profile clash was won by Hawkins when the pair locked horns in the semi-finals of the World Championship in 2013.

Hawkins beat him again in Sheffield a year later too, so his big match experience could be a telling factor.

The last four at Event City will see the format finally increased to best of 11 frames, so there’s more scope for twists and turns to transpire.

Hopefully there’ll be a couple of entertaining ties to enjoy.

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