Mark Allen is into the International Championship final for the second successive season after a 9-6 triumph over Matthew Stevens in Daqing on Friday.
In a barnstorming semi-final encounter that boasted one big contribution after another, Allen just about got the better of the resurgent Welshman to move one step closer to a fourth career ranking title.
There were five centuries in the contest as the pair rose to the occasion of playing in the single table set-up of a lucrative ranking event.
It was the first time in more than five years, since the 2013 World Open final between both players in fact, that Stevens had reached the last four of a tournament of such status.
But the 41 year-old, who had slipped outside the world’s top 50 in the rankings, looked back very near to his best as he ran the Masters champion close.
After losing the opening frame to a break of 75 from his opponent, Stevens reeled off runs of 59, 70, and 86 to establish an early 3-1 cushion.
However, it appeared as though the occasion was going to get to the former UK champion as Allen took advantage of some sloppy play to win five frames on the bounce and move within touching distance of victory.
It was from here that the tie really burst into life in the second session, though, with the duo trading four centuries between them in quick fashion – a hat-trick from Stevens, that included a silky 144 total clearance, reducing the arrears to just 6-7.
Stevens was then in amongst the balls again in the subsequent frame with a golden opportunity to level but, just as so often has been the case in his career, he threw in an untimely miss to gift Allen the chance of a reprieve.
The latter wasn’t going to let it waste and a faultless 85 clearance, adding to the brace of centuries he had himself compiled earlier in the clash, took him to within the brink of Sunday’s final.
The Antrim man needed a few bites of the cherry in what proved to be the last frame but ultimately got the job done to maintain his hopes of collecting the £175,000 top prize.
It was a disappointing end for Stevens, who at least must take solace in a thoroughly unexpected return to form that has seemingly come out of nowhere.
The former world number four clearly still has a lot to offer the game and it’ll be interesting to see if he can carry any momentum into the next couple of ranking events, especially at the end of the month in York for the UK Championship.
Allen, though, deserves a lot of credit for not wilting at all under the pressure that his challenger was hammering him with and indeed looked generally calm and composed throughout.
The 32 year-old, who was also a finalist in 2014, will have a third crack at winning the International Championship final in two days time and can rest easy tomorrow when the second semi-final takes place between Neil Robertson and Jack Lisowski.