Allen down but not out

Mark Allen has called time on his trouble-causing days after admitting he was in danger of falling into the same traps which snared Alex Higgins.

The young Irish player was once banned from his national team, even though he did not go so far as his hard-drinking countryman, who famously headbutted an official at the UK Championship and punched another at the Crucible.

After pulling himself together and ditching the bad behaviour, the 23-year-old is just two steps from glory at the Betfred.com World Championship.

However he must turn around his semi-final against John Higgins after a disappointing opening session this afternoon.

Allen trailed 6-2 after failing to reproduce the form which saw him knock out Ronnie O'Sullivan and Ryan Day.

However, his career is right back on track after admitting he had been a similar character to 'Hurricane' Higgins as a teenager.

"More or less - without the drink," he said. "I was pretty bad when I was younger."

Being barred from travelling to a holiday camp in Prestatyn for a top junior event was a choking blow for Allen.

"I got banned one year because of my behaviour," he said. "But all of that happens for a reason.

"The same people who banned me at that time are the ones who are supporting me now, and they're the ones who keep me on the right track."

He explained: "I used to bang my cue, bang the table. And tell people where to go."

Allen's petulant side has not been seen at the Crucible, where he has come across as a likeable, quietly-spoken player.

"I'll be the first to admit when I was younger I didn't have the best head on my shoulders," he said.

"But I've now got good people around me that keep my feet firmly on the ground.

"I'll never get carried away with any achievements."

Nor should he be too dispirited by the start to his match against Higgins, as there is plenty of time to fight back, with the winner needing 17 frames.

Higgins made the top break of the first session, and the only century, with a run of 114 in the sixth frame, while Allen's highest was a mere 45.

Today was his first experience of a semi-final and the one-table set-up at the Crucible which comes into play for the closing five days of the tournament.

Scot Higgins, champion in Sheffield in 1998 and 2007 and a beaten finalist in 2001, knows the set-up well and appeared more at ease.

Higgins came into the semi-final with Stephen Hendry tipping him for the title.

"If you put my neck against the wall I would say John Higgins - a John Higgins against Shaun Murphy final," Hendry said.

Having beaten Jamie Cope and Mark Selby by 13-12 margins, Higgins had brushed aside suggestions he was destined to lift the trophy.

But Hendry said: "I remember times when I won the championship, winning matches I should have lost, and the boost it gives you and you go on and relax and play well.

"Sometimes these things happen and sometimes your name is on the trophy."

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