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John Higgins and Ronnie O'Sullivan are a class apart at Northern Ireland Open

Ronnie O'Sullivan during his match against Jimmy White at the Titanic Exhibition Centre on Wednesday night
Picture by Declan Roughan 
Martin McGoran at the Titanic Exhibition Centre

JOHN HIGGINS proved Rod Stewart isn’t the only Glasgow Celtic-loving Scot who can rock Belfast this week as he thrilled the afternoon audience in the Coral Northern Ireland Open at the Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast on Wednesday with a maximum and two 130-plus clearances in a 4-1 round two victory over Sam Craigie.

If he needed it, the world number six has more reason to believe that he is sailing towards a third professional title in as many weeks, though his old adversary Ronnie O’Sullivan last night ensured that Higgins didn’t get all the glory on day three as he won the battle of the crowd favourites with a 4-1 win over Jimmy White, which included a 140-plus total clearance of his own.

With Selby, Trump, Bingham and Robertson swerving this ranking event, and Murphy and Ding not making it past the first hurdle, the only thing more surprising than either Higgins or O’Suliivan not pocketing the £70,000 first prize on Sunday, would be if either were to slip up before their potential quarter-final showdown on Friday.

To set up that meeting, both will have to get through two rounds today. Higgins returns to the arena at noon to face China’s Zhou Yuelong, who whitewashed Allan Taylor yesterday after taking the scalp of Matthew Stevens in round one on Monday. After that it could be a clash with another old adversary in Mark Williams, if the Welshman gets past Craig Steadman (3-0 up in their round two match on Wednesday night) and then David Gilbert in round three. O’Sullivan also faces Chinese opposition first up today (1pm) in round three in the shape of Zhang Anda, with Kyren Wilson – who ended the hopes of Antrim’s wild card Jordan Brown yesterday – or Akani Songsermsawad of Thailand waiting in the last-16.

Mark Allen is now third favourite with bookmakers but the Antrim man will have to re-discover his brilliant best after labouring to a 4-2 win over Michael Georgiou, the man who ended Dungannon’s Patrick Wallace’s hopes in the final first round match to finish late on Tuesday night.

Allen faces Robin Hull at 2.30pm today. Before Higgins stole the show yesterday afternoon, Peter Ebdon had fallen just short in his maximum bid in a 4-3 win over Adam Duffy. The 2002 World champion, tasting his first action of the week after getting a bye past Judd Trump in round one, took his 15 reds with blacks but missed the yellow.

By that stage, Dublin’s Fergal O’Brien had raised the high break target with a 142 in the opening frame of his 4-0 win over Mitchell Mann, but he didn’t have it for long and Higgins is now guaranteed at least a share of the £2,000 prize for top break and a £10,000 147 bonus.

Nonetheless, O’Brien will be delighted to reach the last 32 of a ranking event for the second time this season. He made the same stage of the English Open last month before losing to eventual winner Liang Wenbo. O’Brien would have had the chance to avenge that defeat in round three on Thursday, only for Wenbo to lose 4-2 to Mark King on Wednesday night.

Also through to the last-32, for the first time in his rookie season, is Kildare professional Josh Boileau. He is playing on a two-year card thanks to winning the European U21 Championship this year and he followed up his win over Mike Dunn in round one with a 4-2 win over Pakistan’s Hamza Akbar. He faces England’s world number 42 Kurt Maflin at noon on Thursday, the same time at which O’Brien takes on King.

Jordan Brown, meanwhile, fought hard against world number 15 Kyren Wilson before going down 4-2. The Antrim man was on a high after defeating world number 26 Ben Woollaston on Monday and, cheered on by a vociferous home crowd, another shock looked on as he levelled at 2-2.

But Wilson duly responded with his second century of the match in frame five and followed it up with a run of 65 to secure his progress. Ken Doherty’s second round match against Anthony Hamilton was one of the later starts last night, with the Dubliner losing the first frame.

Other notables to progress on Wednesday were Barry Hawkins (4-1 v Michael Holt) and Joe Perry (4-3 v Jimmy Robertson).

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