Shell-shocked Michael Smith couldn’t hide his bitter disappointment as he left the stage at the end of an epic and mind-boggling BetVictor World Matchplay Darts Championship second round tie last night (Tuesday).
He had just been jettisoned from a competition which, following the demise of world no. 1 Michael Van Gerwen, had been blown wide open and Smith’s form of late had elevated him to one of the favourites to lift the crown at Blackpool’s iconic Winter Gardens.
And when he stormed into an early 7-1 lead over his fellow son of St Helens, Dave Chisnall, only a super optimist would have given his rival a cat in hell’s chance of turning the tables.
But Chizzy, who on his own admission had not been playing too well this season, belatedly found peak form and stunned Bully Boy by taking 10 of the last 11 legs to win 11-8 and book his place in the last eight for the fifth time.
Smith started quickest, racing into a 4-1 lead at the first break before continuing his dominance to move 7-1 up, hitting a 110 finish along the way.
He had hardly put a foot wrong at this stage and playing with the kind of confidence of a man who had recently won the Shangi Masters, it seemed only a matter of time before he was back in his dressing-room celebrating victory.
But never-say-die Chisnall refused to throw in the towel and in one of the most thrilling and nerve-tingling encounters ever seen at the Winter Garden achieved what seemed mission impossible, finishing with an impressive average of 103.02.
“It’s unbelievable to win in that way,” said a jubilant Chisnall, who hit 10 180s and two ton-plus finishes.
“I haven’t played great darts for eight months and I started slowly again, and Michael took advantage.
“I’ve had a few good comebacks before but I had nothing to lose at 7-1 and my doubles started going in.
“It’s nice to be in the quarter-finals but I want to push on from here. Not being in the Premier League was a kick up the backside but I’ve worked really hard leading up to this event and I feel good.”