LIAM Highfield is confident he can use his second Crucible appearance as the springboard to challenge at the business end of tournaments next season.

The Stoke potter went down 10-4 to world no.1 Judd Trump in the first round in Sheffield having come through three nail-biting contests in qualifying just to reach the hallowed baize.

The 30-year-old, back at the home of snooker for the first time since his 2018 debut, backed his conqueror to go on and win his second world title and admitted Tuesday’s first session, which ended 7-2 in Trump’s favour, left him with too steep a mountain to climb.

“Two frames could have gone either way in that first session but he’s just a great player and a great guy, which is more important,” Highfield said.

“I love the way he handles himself. He wins it, for me. When I play the other top players, there’s a gap between him and the others.

“It’s hard to relax here on your first or second time but today I felt I could go for my shots.

“I think I’m capable of playing quickly and well. It feels like I’ve been around for a long time but I’m finally breaking that barrier of just fighting for a tour place.

“I’m a different player now and I feel I can compete in the latter stages of tournaments next season.

“This has been a consistent season but I haven’t had a deep run in anything, which is my long-term aim.”

Highfield’s performance in Wednesday’s second session attracted praise from Trump, who complimented the world no.49’s free-flowing style.

A 138 break in the penultimate frame – the highest of the match – was the Stoke ace at his most fluent and he now hopes to be a prominent part of a new generation challenging the old guard.

“I’d like to see the media catch on to the younger players and modernise the sport a bit,” he said.

“I was a bit disappointed by how much build-up Jimmy (White) and (Stephen) Hendry got in the qualifiers. It only put pressure on them and they’re not playing for their livelihoods like they once were. There are other players in the game to build up.

“When you hear of a new name in darts, they’re in the public eye. Snooker could do the same and the media has to move with the new players.”

Watch the World Snooker Championship live on Eurosport and Eurosport app from April 17- May 3