It’s time for the tables to be re-covered on Monday at Ponds Forge as we move into the business end of the qualifiers. There are sixteen more matches to be played, the winners of which will take their place at The Crucible.
Once these are done, the draw for the big one will be taking place in London on Thursday at the media launch of the event for Saturday’s start, loads of time for a preview then…don’t start me off as I’m in a good mood today.
Apparently it will be available to watch at the World Snooker You Tube Channel, I’m not sure if it will be live or not as they seem to have gone on holiday this last week or so and don’t seem to be covering the qualifiers at all, but I will confirm on here when I know.
Sunday saw eight more players through to the final round. Michael Wasley set up a meeting with fellow Gloucester man Rob Milkins with a win over Mark Joyce, I flagged Wazza as a dark horse to qualify and took the 16/1 available at the start, though he does start as an outsider against the far more experienced Milkman.
Merseyside’s Robbie Williams continued his excellent season by ending the hopes of a nation as he came back from behind to beat India’s Pankaj Advani, India will have to wait at least another year before seeing one of their top boys in action at the Crucible. The win also means Robbie breaks into the top 64 on the money list for the season and retains his main tour status with the cash in tact for the start of next season. Well deserved for him as he’s had a really decent season overall and performed brilliantly at times in the PTC’s, he now faces Fergal O’Brien.
Unlike India, Finland still has its hopes alive in the shape of the rejuvenated Robin Hull, who is another, like Williams and Wasley who has been here since Round 1, he now faces Peter Ebdon to qualify. Robin’s great progress in this has also prompted a surge in blog hits from his home country, so I am now officially ‘Big in Finland’. There were also wins for first rounders Stuart Carrington and Li Yan, Stuart comfortably beating Nigel Bond and Li ending Joe Swail’s campaign in the last match to finish.
Matt Selt impressed with a steamroller job on Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, taking 8 frames on the spin from 2-2 and looking extremely good in the process. Another very cosy winner was Martin Gould who for the second time this week won 10-1. Gould didn’t really have to play that well to dispense with a totally out of sorts Igor Figueriedo, poor old Igor couldn’t hit a bulls arse with a shovel and put in possibly one of the worst displays of the season by any player.
Jamie Burnett completed the roll-call of Sunday winners by knocking out Cao Yupeng of China, this means that China will have an absolute maximum of four players at the Crucible and a minimum of three by virtue of the all-Chinese final round clash between Guodong and Li Yan.
Indeed, looking at the final match ups, it’s totally dominated by players from the UK and Ireland with the only other exceptions being Finnish Robin and Thai Poomjaeng. Given that 13 of the 16 seeded players at the Crucible are also from the UK and Ireland, this may not end up having the ‘global’ feel of which the Chairman is so determined to have us all want. I’d rather have the best players personally and don’t really care where they come from but it’s perfectly clear that most of them are still from around these parts.
Before I move on to preview each match individually, I have to mention it don’t I? I do hope a few of you have been following the recommended bets this week. Yesterday saw all those doubles and the 29/1 recommended acca land with outsiders Wasley, Hull, Williams and Carrington all doing the business. Anyone who follows me on Twitter will also have seen some handicap bets on Gould I flagged in-running as he was leading 3-0, it was crystal clear that Igor was in for a good thumping and the bookies were very slow to spot this. Careless and long may it continue.
Anyway, all this ensures a very tidy profit on the week and bodes well for the rest of this championship. After a frankly awful opening round we’ve turned a loss into a good profit in style, I think this season will end up as the most profitable of any of the four since the blog began, assuming we don’t go mad over the next three weeks.
It’s highly likely that after the World Championship I’ll be taking a longer break than usual from the blog as I don’t think May is an appropriate month to restart the next snooker season and never have, but for now we continue at a pace right through until someone has picked up the trophy.
The matches are previewed individually and there are some recommended bets. Where the two have met before I have included a click through link to the superb Cue Tracker website so you can take a look.
Tuesday 11am & 5pm
A recurring theme throughout these matches will be momentum versus ranking. Your bets very much depend on whether or not you view the fact that the players who have qualified to this stage having played a minimum of two matches will have an advantage over those coming here for their first match. My guess is that we’ll see mixed results, but the one element that will always be the deciding factor in this round is bottle. This is where it all gets very twitchy.
Ken Doherty v Dechawat Poomjaeng
There is little doubt now that Poomjaeng is a player that I have been foolish to underrate. He’s had wins over Zhang Anda and Craig Steadman to make it this far and is within touching distance of qualifying for the second year in succession. Standing in his way is former champion Doherty whose current form is pretty poor and who has had a fairly average season while remaining in the top 32. Ken is really hard to predict these days but when he prepares properly for something he can still fight right to the death, I think the question here is whether he has done so this time. If he has I think he’ll win, but if he’s not been putting the hours in he’ll lose. If you know how Ken has prepared you’ll have a bet on this, if not, like me, you won’t.
Dave Gilbert is most snooker pundits idea of the perennial under-achiever, he’s got all the talent in the world yet has not really translated that into results. For me he is a top 16 player and I like the way he plays the game, he’s thoughtful without being slow and usually plays the right shot, when he’s in form he’s a match for anyone. Jimmy Robertson is having a good week, I didn’t expect him to beat Anthony McGill but he did so in a decider after an earlier win over Liam Highfield. Jimmy’s main strength for me is his breakbuilding but he’s not been scoring too heavily this week and for me that’s where he’ll come unstuck here. I fancy Gilbert to win with a few frames to spare.
If Kyren Wilson plays like he has been in the previous rounds he stands every chance of turning over many people’s idea of the potentially toughest Crucible draw for the seeds, Graeme Dott. His win over Alfie Burden was ruthless and he’s been consistently scoring well over his three wins to date, including a 10-3 success over German Masters semi-finalist Rod Lawler. Dott too comes here in decent form and has beaten Kyren convincingly on their only meeting to date which was not that long ago. While I don’t think it will be an easy match for Graeme I do think that he’ll win and that this will be the end of the road for Kyren after some great displays.
Andrew Higginson has struggled all season for consistency but at last appears to be finding some in this. Six breaks over 60 saw him home in convincing fashion against Kurt Maflin and we know that when Andrew clicks he can be very dangerous indeed. He faces Shootout Champ and housewives favourite Dale whose form since winning the novelty event has held up well. I think these two are evenly matched and any other year Andrew might well be the higher ranked player as he has been in the past, this is one where I think having two wins under your belt at the venue will prove decisive, therefore for me it has to be Higginson.
Mark Williams v Alan McManus - LIVE STREAMED
Mark Williams finds himself in the qualifers for a reason, he simply hasn’t been winning enough matches at the big events this season with the last 16 hurdle proving impossible to get over. Despite this he’s done well in the PTC’s even winning one of them early in the season so on paper his win ratio is very good, but this isn’t enough to keep him in the Crucible slots. Alan McManus has played and beaten two grinders so far this week but playing MJW will be a completely different story, he’ll need to score as heavy as Williams to compete and on the evidence of the first two matches he won’t. For me, Williams is Crucible bound, he’d better be, as he’s on the banner displayed outside that I walked past the other day.
This match for me is what the qualifiers is all about. Jamie Jones comes into it rediscovering the form that took him to the Quarter Finals two years ago after a slump since. He’s used his lifeline against Joel Walker, winning from 9-4 down before taking care of Aditya Mehta in the last round. He beat Michael Holt 4-0 in February in a PTC so won’t fear The Hitman coming into this. Michael has had a few recent disappointing results and if that starts playing on your mind it can be destructive to a player like him who wears his heart on his sleeve. Like the Higginson match above I think this one might be decided on momentum, form and confidence coming into it, which is why I just favour Jones to qualify.
Last time these two met in a big event they were both top 16 players, Jamie’s run to the semi-finals of the 2011 Masters after beating Mark in the quarter finals will seem like a distant memory to him, he’s not done as well in anything since and his form has totally eluded him. But this week we’ve seen signs that it’s on its way back and he’s been scoring heavily in dispensing with John Astley and Alex Borg. For me however King is a different animal to Jamie’s previous two opponents and is another that comes into this in decent form. Whilst I think this could be fairly close I’m going to side with higher seed King, who is still a force in the tactical department and capable of winning and keeping his head if it gets scrappy, something Jamie has never been very good at, I expect King to set out this match the way he wants it played and scrap the win.
Matthew Stevens v Tom Ford - LIVE STREAMED
Tom Ford absolutely hammered Luca Brecel in his last match after beating James Cahill previously. Ford hasn’t had a great season but is very capable and has bundles of experience. He faces twice runner-up Matthew Stevens who is another that has been dumped out of the top 16 for not having a good season. Since a semi-final appearance in the Wuxi Classic in June I’ve been waiting for him to get going again and I’m still waiting. A lot of this depends on how well Matthew has prepared for this, he is notorious for not practicing much and relying on his talent to do the work for him and it has worked for him in the past, but will he now have to start putting in the graft? I think this one is a very tough call, I’d marginally side with Stevens but only on gut instinct and that’s not really a good basis to have a bet, Ford is the value.
Wednesday 11am & 5pm
Robert Milkins v Michael Wasley - LIVE STREAMED
The Gloucester Derby between Milkins and Wasley, eagerly anticipated by people who walk around with straw in their mouths. Wasley has played very well all week and battled hard for his wins over Syd Wilson, Rory McLeod and Mark Joyce and will be full of confidence, particularly in the style he beat McLeod. Milkins starts this a hefty favourite and for sure he’s most people’s pick I would think. I’ve backed Mike at 16/1 to qualify so I’m happy to just sit back and see how that gets on, you have to fancy Rob but his price isn’t something I’d get involved in personally.
The Ferginator enters the fray to face the flying high Robbie Williams who comes into this having secured his place on the tour next season how he wanted. He’s also got here when handed a very tough draw and his win over Pankaj Advani must give him the confidence to think he can go all the way to the Crucible, he’s also beaten Fergal on their only previous meeting and doesn’t strike me as the type of player to let any slowing down tactics affect him at all. Fergal himself made the final of the last PTC event and usually has one or two stand out performances per season these days. This is one which for me has the feeling of an upset on the cards, Williams can play safe in the knowledge that he’s had a great season, Fergal is the one who is under pressure here. I’m going for Robbie to fly the flag for Merseyside at the Crucible.
Peter Ebdon v Robin Hull
Another player with the wind in his sails is Robin Hull. Wins over Drago, Pengfei and Burns have included three centuries and a further sixteen breaks over 50 so there is absolutely nothing wrong with his game in the scoring department. But now, it gets serious and you don’t get more serious than a determined Peter Ebdon who showed signs in China that he’s tuning up for this after a quiet season. Before the qualifiers began I said I thought Ebdon was nailed on to qualify, but that’s the beauty of this event, things can force you to change your mind and with betting being stubborn is no way to win. I think Robin is in with a serious chance here and I’d love to see how this one pans out on the Live Stream so I hope they cover it. Hull has missed countless tournaments over the years with a recurring health problem but those in the game know how good he is when he’s fit. It’s so hard to call this as Ebdon is so unpredictable and as much as I’d like to see Peter at the Crucible I’m going to take a chance on Robin, he’s playing so well he has to have a big chance.
Liang Wenbo v Martin Gould - LIVE STREAMED
Another potential cracker here and again a player in Wenbo that I thought going into this was a shoo-in for the Crucible, but now I’m not so sure. Martin Gould has dropped just two frames on his way here but it has to be said that his opponents have not exactly proved difficult so this is his first real test. Liang is beginning to get more consistency into his game and that’s what lacks with so many of the Chinese players, he’s clearly on his day very close to a top 16 player but so is Martin which makes this all about who is in the better form on the day. I suspect that one of them will win with a bit in hand, I’ll plump for Liang, but I think it’s the toss of a coin who wins here. No bet.
Another potentially tight one this with Burnett having scored two decent wins on his way here. Ben has flown up the rankings these past few years and now is a familiar face on our screens, particularly if you watch the Eurosport PTC’s where he seems to be on as much as the likes of Higgins and Selby, or maybe it just happens to be him on when I’m watching. Anyway, Burnett’s strength has always been his scoring and it was evident in his first match but not so much in his win over Yupeng, when he obviously dug deep to win. Maybe that’s a sign that his game is now less about big breaks and more about scrapping out a win. Ben made his Crucible debut last season and will be keen to get back there to do better this time. He is a very consistent player in the qualifiers and I think he may have been expecting someone else in this match, he’s a big chance to get to the Crucible again and I think he will.
Stuart Carrington very unfairly, is the sort of player who if introduced at the Crucible would likely draw the reaction of ‘Who?’ from the audience. He’s for some an unlikely name to be battling it out at this stage having seen off the more familiar faces of Jack Lisowski and Nigel Bond in the last two rounds, but to snooker people, we’ve seen how his form has been this year so there’s no doubt he’s got here on merit, one century and twelve further fifty plus breaks is testament to that. He faces Ryan Day who, like Woollaston was probably mentally preparing to face someone else (probably Lisowski) so may be pleasantly surprised at his final round draw. But complacency is not a great idea at this stage of things and any hint of it from Day and he’ll be heading home. Looking at the odds, Day is the heaviest match favourite of the round, he should win, but I’d question that logic personally.
Michael White v Matt Selt
A svelte Matt Selt (nice rhyming) was very clinical in his last match and produced as good a display as I’ve seen from him. He now faces last season’s quarter-finalist Michael White who has followed this with a good, if not brilliant season. He’s very highly rated by some in the know is Michael and he proved last year that the big stage doesn’t phase him, but that won’t stop the nerves creeping in here. The two have never met so we have nothing to go on formwise but at this level that doesn’t really matter too much. I was toying with the idea of sticking with Selt here as I did flag him as the qualifier for this section but the more thought I give it, the more I am coming down on the side of the Welshman, who remains the heavier scorer of the two on his day.
Finally, the all-Chinese affair between Guodong and Yan. It’s fair to say that Li is a big surprise to be at this stage and he’s got here by seeing off old stagers Harold and Swail after beating Elliot Slessor first up. His scoring is very average indeed with only 7 breaks over fifty in the 30 frames he’s won. When I said above that I thought Ryan Day’s hefty favouritism with some bookies was out of kilter with some other matches, this is what I meant. Guodong is in a different league to Li and all being well, you’d expect him to win quite easily here, he’d be the banker of the round in my book and a welcome addition to the Crucible numbers.
4 point treble pays just on 7/4 at Ladbrokes on Dave Gilbert, Mark Williams and Xiao Guodong. Add Graeme Dott for a 2 point acca that pays 11/4 at the same firm.
6 x 1 point doubles and a 1 point acca on Andrew Higginson, Jamie Jones, Ben Woollaston and Robbie Williams (acca pays best almost 15.5/1 at Bet Victor).
2 points on Robin Hull to beat Ebdon at 2/1 with Bet 365.
2 points on Tom Ford to beat Stevens at 6/4 with Paddy Power.
You can view match prices at Apollobet here