The possibility of two qualifiers contesting the 2006 Embassy World Championship final still loomed large as Ian McCulloch kept pace with tournament favourite Matthew Stevens at the Crucible Theatre.
The duo went into the final two sessions of their best-of-33 showdown locked at 8-8 and shared the opening four frames.
McCulloch began the tournament as a 100-1 outsider and, if he triumphs against Stevens, could meet world number 48 Shaun Murphy who was given even longer odds of 150-1 a fortnight ago.
Murphy’s semi-final with Peter Ebdon will resume this afternoon at 12-12 in what will effectively be a best of nine frame shoot-out in the bid to reach the magical 17 mark.
Stevens had made a fine recovery in the second session yesterday afternoon in fighting back from 6-2 down to level matters.
The Welshman edged ahead for the first time in the match in a see-saw 17th frame.
McCulloch responded to Stevens’ opening 38 with a run of 54 before missing a difficult cut on the last red which saw Stevens step in with a 32 clearance to sneak home 70-61.
But any notion tournament favourite Stevens would now take charge of the match were quickly dispelled by his opponent.
He needed a slice of luck to clinch frame 18 after an earlier 45 break via fluking the final red into the middle pocket.
But in the next McCulloch cut an impressive figure as he snicked in a difficult opening red on his way to a fine 77 which edged him back in front.
The Preston potter had the opportunity in the final frame before the interval to stretch that advantage after potting another fine long red.
But the 33-year-old then missed a straightforward red and Stevens eventually stepped in with a 74 clearance.