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McManus can pot birthday present.

Byline: Snooker

Alan McManus and John Higgins met this afternoon in an all-Scottish semi-final at the SAGA Insurance Masters at the Wembley Conference Centre.

McManus was a 6-4 victor over two-times winner Mark Williams, while Grand Prix champion Higgins won by the same scoreline against world champion Shaun Murphy.

Both victories mean that at least one Scottish player is guaranteed a place in this year's showcase, best-of-17 final.

Earlier this week, seven-times world champ Stephen Hendry and Stephen Maguire, last season's Travis Perkins UK Championship winner, bowed out in the second round. But McManus and Higgins keep the flag flying for the Tartan Army and their Scottish fans will be looking to see one of them go on and lift the crown.

McManus admitted he was "nervy" in his victory over Williams and that he had struggled to contend with what he described as a "tight table".

Higgins, in his victory over Rotherham potter Murphy, admitted he had failed to find his best form and that he had felt the pressure in his second-round victory over crowd favourite Jimmy White.

So both players know they have plenty of room for improvement and are relishing their bid to try to win this prestigious tournament in its last year at Wembley.

The venue will be demolished after this year's tournament but McManus, in particular, is looking to bow out on a winning note.

Twelve years ago he won the Masters crown with a memorable 10-9 victory over fellow Scot Hendry, while Higgins took the title in 1999 when he beat Dubliner Ken Doherty 10-8 in the final.

The Wizard of Wishaw has also been runner-up on two occasions, losing 9-3 in 1995 and then 10-3 last year to world number one Ronnie O'Sullivan.

"I can't wait to play John, it should be a great match," was McManus' assessment after he defeated Williams.

"John's a special talent and I know I will have to play well to beat him.

"I found the table difficult to play on, but I've heard World Snooker are changing the cloth.

"Hopefully I'll get a chance to practice and feel more comfortable out there."

McManus also has an added incentive for he celebrates his 35th birthday today as the pair lock horns in what promises to be yet another mouth-watering clash between two of Scotland's best players.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Jan 21, 2006
Words:389
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