Ali Carter edged ahead of Stephen Maguire in the first session of their World Championship semi-final, taking a 5-3 lead at the Crucible.
Both men struggled to find the form which had carried them through to the final four, 32-year-old Carter having knocked out Judd Trump on the way and 31-year-old Maguire having ended the career of Stephen Hendry in the quarter-finals.
After five frames Maguire had a highest break of just 21 yet still trailed only 3-2. He had somehow led 2-0 before Carter began picking him off.
By the end of the session, Essex cueman Carter had pulled 5-3 in front, and they play morning and evening sessions on Friday before a scheduled Saturday afternoon finish.
Maguire could probably afford to play his worst session of the tournament at the outset of a best-of-33-frames contest, with plenty of time for the early damage to be undone.
Maguire mixed the sublime and the ridiculous, beginning the match with a terrific long red which looked ominous for Carter.
The opening frame proved error-ridden, though, settled only when Carter twice failed to escape from a snooker and Maguire swept up the colours from green to pink.
Maguire kicked his cue in anger when he missed a red with the rest midway through the second frame, but with a series of low breaks he pinched it.
Carter had runs of 46 and 26 to close the gap and when he fired in a 91 to level the match at last the crowd had a break they could appreciate.
The standard stayed low, Maguire rapping the table with his cue in frustration in the fifth frame after missing a red to the centre pocket.
With Peter Ebdon supporting him in the crowd, Carter moved ahead before Maguire found fluency for the first time and made 82 for 3-3.
Cynical minds would argue this was a match where the players were bidding for the right to lose to Ronnie O'Sullivan in the final. O'Sullivan, showing magnificent form this year in Sheffield, was heading into the opening session of his semi-final against Matthew Stevens this evening.
Carter gained the upper hand as he snatched the closing two frames of the afternoon.