Dobey Denies Smudger in Afternoon Thriller

Red Dragon Darts


Chris Dobey defeated Ross Smith 4-2 in a high-scoring and high-tension match to cap off Thursday’s afternoon session.

‘Smudger’ was party to an outstanding match at this stage last year, a tie with Dirk van Duijvenbode which broke the record for 180 count in a best of 7. But this year’s battle was to prove a different challenge.

The first set was high quality if not super showy, Dobey edging it 3-1 with a 107 average and little drama on doubles.

Chances were rare for Smith early on, and this continued in set 2. ‘Hollywood’ would take a 2-0 lead early on before Smith took only his second dart at double to date. Patience was perhaps required, but Dobey was not affording it, and soon enough it would be 2-0.

Ross Smith’s frustrations were close to spilling out, his scoring failing to make inroads into Dobey’s increasingly excellent performance. Even a leg at this point might have stoked something within Smith, but instead a hold and a break followed for ‘Hollywood’.

A maxi to start leg 3 compounded the worries of ‘Smudger’, but a leg would follow. Queue a reaction from Smith, as he appealed for support from the North London crowd. Perhaps it worked, as an 86 out carried him to a decider. A double 5 from 85 down gained him a first set and crucially the darts in the fourth.

A hold made it four legs in a row, before Dobey finally stopped the rot with one of his own. A 102 out would not be forthcoming however, and Smith was a leg from even stevens. That leg he would nab, at a superb 61% on doubles and looking every bit a changed man.

The following set would be suitably nip-and-tuck all the way, Smith gaining an early break before Dobey followed it with one of his own. At 2-1 up, pressure from ‘Smudger’ would deny Dobey any chance at the set. But at 2-2, no similar mistakes were made.

For all of the exceptional arrows Ross Smith had produced in this brewing classic, a lot more would be required in the sixth set. And after both trading legs, Smith could not seize on a strong position in leg 3. A double 20 from Dobey proved the boost he needed, and leg 4 was all about retaining focus. The two seeds may have been closely matched but it was Dobey who pulled it all together in the end.

“I grinded it out in the end and I felt comfortable at the end,” Dobey told Sky Sports after the match. “But Ross never gives in and I am so happy to get through the match. He is one of my best mates on the tour but it is a nice bit of revenge in the end.”

Joe Cullen overcame Ryan Searle 4-2 in an entertaining and topsy-turvy tussle.

Searle did all the hard work for set 1 early on, kicking off with a maxi. But it was Cullen who had the edge, losing only one leg. ‘Rockstar’ would start set 2 a little shakily, relinquishing the throw in the first leg. But he remained a step ahead of the 19th seed Searle, proving only a temporary blip. A two-set lead would soon be his.

Joe Cullen was doing nothing extraordinary, but always seemed to punish Searle’s rued chances. An opening arrived in leg 1, before a first break of throw helped ‘Metalhead’ get a footing. A 170 for Cullen, not taken, may have re-swung the balance, but the set was ultimately seized by Searle.

The hopes that Cullen may have had about getting by on second gear were certainly now suspended, and set 4 would offer the first decider. Two huge scores of 134 and 180 seemed to make all the difference for Cullen, but a fruitless visit on double 18 and then 9 was roundly punished with a 124. 2-2 in a match which always seemed hard to call.

The fifth set was at best chaotic, seeing Cullen take an early 2-0 lead against an impotent Searle. 4 squandered darts for the set there and then came and went for Cullen, that leg seeming to galvanise Searle to take affairs to a decider.

7 proved the magic number in that game, both the number of missed doubles from Searle and the number of the eventual bit of the outer ring Cullen pinned to take the set.

Perhaps determined to ensure there would be no such drama, the sixth set saw Cullen ease to another 2-nil lead. But history was yet to repeat itself. Searle is made of stern stuff, and mustered a 12 darter to take leg 3 before forcing another decider. ‘Rockstar’ had the darts though and was going to make good use of it, breezing in the end to the leg and with it the match.

“Ryan put me under so much pressure,” Cullen told Sky’s Abigail Davies post-match. “At 3-2 up, I knew I couldn’t relax, but things got really tight. I think that had I not won that set, I might have lost 4-3 overall.”

“He played really fantastically and was even better when behind, with lots of high scoring trebles.”

Stephen Bunting began Thursday’s afternoon session with a brilliant 4-0 victory over Florian Hempel.

‘The Bullet’ has been in fine fettle at the Alexandra Palace this year and once again averaged north of 100 en route to a comfortable win.

The former BDO world champion started with intent, a pair of 11 darters establishing an early lead, but Hempel took the opening set to a decider with two sub-15 dart legs of his own. The set, however, would be Bunting’s.

On such unrelenting form, ‘The Bullet’ was going to be hard to deflect, and set 2 seemed to pass the German by, falling to Bunting 3-1.

Hempel still had a trick or two up his sleeve though, and once again overturned a 2-0 deficit to take set 3 to a decider. Typical of the St Helens man’s ruthlessness though, it was a leg in which he went two-thirds of the way into a 9 darter. Florian was left simply to try again next time.

Leg 1 of set 4 was perhaps the poorest of the whole display, a measly 20 darts for the leg well off the pace, but an 11 darter from Bunting at 1-1 sent him to the verge of victory. 19 darts later, without having broken a sweat, he would book a place in the last 16 and a date with Michael van Gerwen.

The tournament is being broadcast live on Sky Sports in the UK, through the PDC’s worldwide broadcast partners including DAZN and Viaplay, and on PDCTV (excluding UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria & Switzerland based subscribers).

2023/24 Paddy Power World Darts Championship
Thursday December 28
Afternoon Session (1230 GMT)
3x Third Round
Stephen Bunting 4-0 Florian Hempel (3-2, 3-1, 3-2, 3-1)
Joe Cullen 4-2 Ryan Searle (3-1, 3-1, 0-3, 2-3, 3-2, 3-2)
Chris Dobey 4-2 Ross Smith (3-1, 3-1, 2-3, 1-3, 3-2, 3-1)

Evening Session (1900 GMT)
3x Third Round
Gerwyn Price v Brendan Dolan
Luke Humphries v Ricardo Pietreczko
Ricky Evans v Daryl Gurney


Images: PDC

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