by Tom Pritchard
JOHN Higgins advanced to round two of the Welsh Open with a 4-1 victory over Joe O’Connor at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff.
O’Connor defeated Higgins at the quarter-final stage of last year’s event, but made far too many errors to cause the five-time winner of this competition any real problems.
Breaks of 18, 22 and 34 helped Higgins to win a first frame where O’Connor failed to settle, as he presented the Scot with numerous opportunities to build a lead.
With a 19-point lead in the second frame, a lapse in concentration saw O’Connor go in off after rolling a red into the middle pocket and seeing the cue ball follow the cushion into the near corner pocket.
However, Higgins failed to punish the 24-year-old, as he saw the blue hit both jaws of the middle pocket.
The youngster was equally unable to make the four-time world champion pay for his error, and a composed break of 62 allowed Higgins to double his advantage.
An excellent long red from Higgins began a break of 33 – one which looked to be frame-winning – but he then missed a regulation red to hand O’Connor an unexpected lifeline.
O’Connor responded with a break of 24, which came to an end when an attempted red ball cannon narrowly missed a corner pocket.
His error proved to be fatal, as Higgins – well in the groove at this point – compiled a break of 55 to clinch a third consecutive frame and move to within one of victory.
After scoring 42 points at the start of the fourth frame, O’Connor failed to break open a cluster of reds after powering the black into the corner, bringing his break to an end.
Higgins attempted to play safe with his next shot, but left a long red open, which O’Connor sunk, to set up a frame-winning break to keep himself in the match.
Having accidentally clipped the blue on a safety shot back to balk, O’Connor may have thought that he had played his final shot of the game, however Higgins missed the red by some distance.
The Englishman extended his lead to 48, but again failed to press home his advantage, but once more he was not punished as Higgins missed failed to pot the pink.
The Scot claimed the initiative to move into a 10-point lead before the frame broke down once more, with both players struggling to put the final red away.
It was the less experienced O’Connor who finally did so, but he then saw the yellow agonisingly hit the jaw. Higgins rolled it in and potted the green, but then made a hash of the brown to keep the frame in the balance.
A Higgins foul allowed O’Connor to pocket the brown and blue, but he then proceeded to miss a tricky pink and was subsequently punished by Higgins – who will have been delighted to end the match when he did, with the clock at 10 minutes to midnight.