Higgins: I'm just a journeyman now
6:42am Wednesday 23rd April 2014 in © Press Association 2014
John Higgins labelled himself nothing more than "a journeyman" after a second successive first-round exit at the Dafabet World Championship.
Higgins joined Ding Junhui on the Crucible casualty list as the four-time champion was bundled out in Sheffield by his fellow Scot Alan McManus, who earned a shot at Ken Doherty in the last 16.
McManus said he "just fell over the line", but it was a victory the 1994 Masters champion toiled for and carries him into the second round for the first time since 2005.
Higgins had taken the final two frames of their opening session on Monday but quickly fell 8-3 down upon the resumption.
A fluked red gave Higgins the impetus to pull one back and, after losing the next, he belatedly found some vintage form with breaks of 111, 67 and 94 in closing the gap to 9-7.
McManus, 43, trailed in the next frame too, but Higgins missed the blue when he looked like going just one frame behind and his good friend seized the unexpected match-winning chance.
McManus told BBC Two: "Although he probably never played as well as he would have liked in most of the match, he came on strong towards the end and I kind of just fell over the line so I feel very fortunate.
"Now I play my fellow old-stager, Ken, and I really look forward to it. I'm sure Ken will be looking forward to it as much as I am."
Higgins had to concede his days as a regular title contender may be behind him.
He said: "It's been a bad season but I'm a lot happier compared to last year. I think I'm playing better - that's a crumb of comfort I can take.
"There's been times when I've been sat here desolate, but I still think there's some decent snooker left in me.
"I'm not one of the top players that's challenging for events, I'm possibly a journeyman top-16 player now. The journeymen can have their day sometimes."
Doherty himself inflicted a shock defeat on Stuart Bingham while w orld number two Ding was edged out in a final-frame decider late on Monday night by little-known qualifier Michael Wasley.
Ricky Walden held off Crucible debutant Kyren Wilson's fightback to avoid joining the high-profile exits, with McManus' description of "falling over the line" certainly applicable in the Chester man's case.
Walden began with a 6-3 lead and the first four frames were shared, Walden's 63 in frame 12 sandwiched by breaks of 61 and 59 from his opponent.
Wilson took a scrappy first frame back and added the next with a 62 before Walden dug in to make it 9-7, and a tortuous next frame lasted more than an hour before Walden finally took it on the yellow.
In matches yet to conclude, Judd Trump took a 6-2 lead over Tom Ford without having to be anywhere near his fluent best.
The four frames before the mid-session interval were shared, with Trump's 62 in frame three representing the highest break of a scrappy session.
Ford lost frame five despite being in first with a break of 48 and Trump took the next three before suffering the unusual fate for him of being taken off one frame early to make way for the evening matches.
Barry Hawkins also struggled early on before battling to a 5-4 lead over qualifier David Gilbert.
The world number four's best break before the interval was just 29 as he trailed 3-1, Gilbert with a 77 in frame two, but runs of 72, 72, 115 and 69 gave Hawkins a slender lead to take into Wednesday morning's conclusion.
Mark Allen managed six half-century breaks but only a 5-4 lead against Michael Holt.
The Northern Irishman led 3-2 with breaks of 72, 70 and 61 against a 98 from Holt in frame two.
Breaks of 54 and 61 could not prevent Allen from falling 4-3 behind, but 42 was enough in the next and he finished with a 65.
Martin Gould fell 6-3 behind against Hong Kong's Marco Fu, who at one stage had a 147 maximum break chance but after 11 reds and blacks missed a treacherously difficult treble to stall on 88.