More final heartbreak for St Helens darts ace Michael Smith

There was World Matchplay final agony for Michael Smith
There was World Matchplay final agony for Michael Smith

Michael Smith is beginning to earn the unwanted title of 'the nearly man' of world darts.

The St Helens ace of the oche saw a third major TV trophy slip through his grasp in a couple of years when he was beaten 18-13 by Hastings' rival Rob Cross in the Betfred World Matchplay at Blackpool's Winter Gardens last night (Sunday).

The 28-year-old local lad had already been beaten earlier this year by Michael Van Gerwen in the World Championship Final and in 2018 had suffered the same fate against the Dutchman in the Premier League Final.

But any realistic hopes of ending his losing streak virtually ended when he lost the first nine legs.

It proved an impossible gap to bridge despite Bully Boy's gallant fightback and in the end Cross - the 2018 world champion - crossed the winning line

Cross began the contest with back-to-back 72 checkouts, and added an 81 combination for a 12-darter before punishing misses from Smith in three straight legs to pull clear.

Smith had missed nine doubles during the opening six legs of that spell, but finally found his range to take out 84 in two darts to win leg 10.

He also won three of the next four to cut the gap, only for Cross to steady his nerve with finishes of 73 and 115 before punishing five misses from his rival to move 12-4 up.

The 2018 World Championship finalist hit back superbly with legs of 12, 13 and 12 darts as he pulled back to 12-7, before a last-dart double 16 from Cross gave him the 20th leg.

Smith, inspired by a capacity Winter Gardens crowd, claimed another three legs - including an 11-darter - as he pulled back to 13-10, and after Cross finished 110 the St Helens man came from 250 points behind to win the 25th leg on double 18.

The next two were shared, before six misses from Cross allowed Smith to cut the gap to just two legs at 15-13 as he threatened to complete the greatest comeback in the event's history.

The Hastings ace, though, held his nerve with another 72 combination and posted double 16 to move to the brink of glory and sealed the title with double four.

"It feels amazing," said Cross. "I'm lost for words - so happy that I've won this title.

"I've loved this place from day one and it's been so special to me. Everything about this tournament is amazing and to walk out with this (trophy) makes it all complete.

"It was a weird game. I went so far in front and towards the end I switched off, so the double 16 to put me 17-13 up was what won it for me.

"Michael played great darts all week but he struggled on doubles tonight and it made me more edgy. He came back well but I had to stay calm.''

Smith said: "My doubles deserted me tonight. I was constantly chasing and I didn't turn up.

''But even at 9-0 down I still believed that I was going to win, but you pay the price for being 9-0 down. I proved that I can fight but when I got back in it, my doubles disappeared again.

"My scoring wasn't there and my finishing wasn't, but all credit to Rob because he did a job. I've made another final and it's another runner-up trophy but it won't stop me."

The former World Youth Champion added: "I'd rather have got beaten in the first round than lose in that final - it hurts less.

"I'm fuming - I keep making finals but I don't want to be the nearly man, I want to be the one that wins them."