Mark Allen and Ronnie O'Sullivan on the hunt for York glory

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Snooker's UK Championship gets under way in York on Tuesday - read Richard Mann's outright preview and best bets here.

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1pt e.w Mark Allen at 16/1

1pt Mark Allen/Ronnie O'Sullivan final at 25/1

As the old saying goes, a week is a long time in sport.

At the time of writing it's not even seven days since Judd Trump won the Northern Ireland Open for a second year in a row, claiming his second ranking title in three weeks to further underline his status as the number one player in the sport.

Trump's 9-7 defeat of Ronnie O'Sullivan in Belfast saw him produce a stunning display that included four centuries and there is no doubt that the 30-year-old is riding the crest of a wave at present.

Already the reigning World and Masters champion, victory in York would see Trump become the first player since Mark Williams in 2003 to hold all three Triple Crown trophies at the same time and it is a measure of his current standing in the game that he has usurped O'Sullivan as market leader for the first of them this season.

That is even more remarkable when you consider that the UK Championship has very much become Ronnie's event, one he has won a record seven times, including in each of the last two years.

O'Sullivan produced the complete performance when beating Mark Allen 10-6 in last year's final, passing Stephen Hendry's record of 19 Triple Crown wins in the process and confirming himself as the greatest player of all time.

Nevertheless, despite O'Sullivan winning the Players Championship and Tour Championship since, it is Trump who can comfortably lay claim to having enjoyed the better 12 months and with his work ethic now matching his rich talent, and his winning mentality driving a relentless pursuit of trophies, it is hard to pick too many holes in the 11/4 favourite.

That isn't to say I haven't tried in my UK Championship talking points feature and with Ronnie, on paper at least, looking to have a smoother passage to the latter stages, I'm beginning the come round to the idea that it is the 43-year-old who represents the better value of the the two at the top of the market.

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It was with a sense of sadness that I watched Trump outgun O'Sullivan in Belfast last week but the more I reflect on that final, the more I sense that O'Sullivan could be an even stronger proposition when returning to York and his favourite event.

In each of the last two years O'Sullivan has ensured his game has been at its peak in time for this and having looked out of sorts at the English Open and when beaten in qualifying for the World Open, he has taken several steps forward since.

His run to the semi-finals of the Champion of Champions represented a big improvement on his efforts of the previous few weeks, particularly his 6-4 defeat by Neil Robertson in an action-packed encounter, and he was better again in Northern Ireland after that.

Another quiet start saw O'Sullivan burst into life when routing Shaun Murphy and Joe Perry in the quarter-finals and semi-finals and though he found an inspired Trump too strong in the end, he certainly played his part in a high-class encounter despite failing to dial in his usually excellent safety game.

Don't be surprised to see O'Sullivan raise his game again in York - like he has done so many times before - and should he do so, he is going to be a tough nut for anyone to crack, including Trump.

For all Trump is clearly the future, O'Sullivan is by no means done with yet and I think he'll go really well again.

With that in mind, 7/2 for outright victory appears fair but I'm keen to strike a bet at bigger price and the Name The Finalists market certainly makes appeal, with the 25/1 available for an O'Sullivan/Mark Allen final catching the eye.

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It would mean a repeat of last year's denouement but Allen's own form this term has been most encouraging with four semi-final appearances suggesting he is very close to entering the winner's enclosure again very soon.

Allen dominated his last-four clash with Mark Selby at the English Open until the latter produced a trademark comeback to prevail at the end of a gruelling affair and the Northern Irishman was desperately unlucky when reaching the same stage of the subsequent Champion of Champions.

Having won four frames on the bounce, Allen was closing in on a 5-3 lead until a brutal kick stopped him in his tracks in frame eight and when Trump fluked a crucial red on the way to winning the next frame, the match had taken a decisive turn in the most cruel of circumstances.

What it did reaffirm is that Allen has the game to put it up to the very best - Allen edges Trump in head-to-heads (13-11) - and should the pair renew their rivalry at the quarter-finals stage in York, it would be a match Allen is capable of coming through.

With the strong suspicion that Allen, like O'Sullivan, appears to be peaking just at the right time and given he is clearly due a change in fortunes, he has to be worth an each-way play in the outright market with 16/1 generally available.

At a similar price, John Higgins has to get a mention arriving in York in much better heart than he did 12 months ago.

Last year's early exit at the hands of Alan McManus left Higgins contemplating retirement but he managed to turn his season around with a third consecutive World Championship final appearance and has made two semi-finals in the last few weeks.

His 6-5 defeat to Trump in their last-four meeting at the World Open would suggest Higgins isn't far from winning again but I thought he let the same opponent off the hook on a couple of occasions in a match he ought to have won at the Northern Ireland Open only a couple of weeks later.

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As I wrote here earlier this week, Higgins is one of snooker's finest ever players, a four-time world champion and someone who will surely win again before his illustrious career comes to an end, but I fear that he might no longer posses the tools needed to take down the very best in the biggest tournaments.

Higgins struggled to contain O'Sullivan at the end of their recent Champion of Champions clash, just as he has done Trump in their last three meetings, and given the cream has tended to rise to top in York in recent years, I'm just not sure he is producing the standard of snooker required to win here.

As regular readers will know, Higgins did this column a big favour when progressing to the World Championship final last spring and as such, I would happily be proven wrong about someone whose brilliant all-round game is surely capable of claiming another title, if not a Triple Crown one.

He is passed over with a heavy heart, less so Champion of Champions hero Robertson who played superbly well in Coventry before suffering an early exit in Northern Ireland.

A dual winner of this event, his best is clearly good enough to take down the the likes of Trump and O'Sullivan but he hasn't produced that form as consistently as he would have liked this term and quotes of 11/2 are about right.

English Open hero Mark Selby is another dual winner off this tournament but he hasn't kicked on from Crawley as many would have expected and I'm happy to pass him over, similarly Shaun Murphy who started the current campaign by reaching three finals but has been quiet since.

Murphy still appears to have his game in good working order but he was sloppy against O'Sullivan when they met in Belfast and could be set to face the same rival at the quarter-finals stage again here while the likes of Barry Hawkins, Mark Williams and Kyren Wilson are all hard to make a case for on recent form.

That takes us back nearer the top of the market with only O'Sullivan and Allen representing anything like value.

I'll stick with Allen in the outright market but with O'Sullivan expected to enjoy another deep run in an event he loves, a repeat of last year's final could well be on the cards.

1625 GMT on 22/11/19.

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