Took a day out to visit Willie Thorne’s club in Leicester to show support for my new pal Joe Jogia, playing in his home club event in the Pro Tour. I arrived at lunch on day two, by which time Joe had already seen off Stephen Lee and Michael White, both by 4-2 margins. His next round match was against Rod Lawler who had just defeated Nigel Bond.
The game was an epic encounter, if not the most pleasing on the eye. Joe made the early running and enjoyed some favourable run to take the first and open a commanding lead in the second. Lawler’s patience was eventually rewarded with a 67 to steal level and signal his intent to take Joe and the partisan crowd on. The same cautious approach won him the next and Joe, who’d been away from the balls for the best part of an hour, started to look like he might be in trouble.
The pace of the game was extremely slow, which seemed to deny both players their usual fluency, but Joe continued to take on the big long pots and the crowd rallied behind him as he started to look the most likely. He took frames four and five, and with the game firmly swung in his favour, a loose positional shot on match ball seemed likely only to delay him by a few moments, as he played a fine safety to shore up the brown. Instead, Lawler produced a brilliant fightback with a series of extremely tough pots, cueing over balls and from tight on cushions and suddenly they were level at three apiece.
In the decider, Lawler finally came out on the offensive, pushing for the long reds that he had been refusing all game, but leaving Joe the chances he’d been denied for such long periods. Both players were looking pretty tired now and the home support were crucial in keeping Joe focussed as he dug in and found the points he needed.
At this point, I needed a rest, even if Joe wasn’t going to get one. Sometimes it’s harder work watching than playing! They were ready to start the next round as all the other matches were long since finished. In particular, Ricky Walden and Jamie Cope had wrapped their match up in little over an hour and a quarter with Walden making four centuries in his 4-1 win. Poor Jamie Cope had only managed one century of his own – what a game!
The quarter final pitched Joe against Peter Lines and Joe flew out of the blocks with a 90 to claim the first before I’d even made my way back into the arena. It looked like it might be a cruise when he added the next, but Lines is also built of strong stuff and produced some fine shots to pinch the third at the death, including a half ball pink virtually tethered to the cushion, dispatched along the length of the table to the baulk corner. He levelled the match with a sixty in the next and the momentum appeared to be with him, when a simple lapse early in the fifth left Joe in amongst the balls and he wasn’t about to turn that kind of opportunity down. And now with the crowd sensing the semi-final beckoning Joe got himself 43 clear with one red left in the sixth. The following exchanges were nail-biting – Lines leaving Joe in a series of horrible snookers and, after one foul on the pink had increased the pressure, he pulled out a matching series of brilliant escapes to hold his lead and finally clinch the match 4-2. It was a reminder of how much you miss when the highlights programmes truncate the frames at the “snookers required” stage.
I wasn’t there for the final day’s play but Joe’s rich vein of form continued with an impressive 5-0 win over Ricky Walden. Sadly he didn’t quite last the distance as he was pipped 5-3 in the final by Robert Milkins. Nevertheless, this was a highly creditable effort and I wish him well for upcoming events. He’ll probably welcome me back as a supporter too, because I’ve still never seen him lose!
[You can read more about the Pro Challenge Snooker event series and results at www.global-snooker.com.]