Daryl Gurney and Joe Cullen produced inspired displays to dump out Gary anderson and Gerwyn Price on an extraordinary Tuesday night at the Betfred World Matchplay.
Day Four saw the second round action get underway in Blackpool, and the big-name exodus continued as Smith and Price joined reigning champion Michael van Gerwen in crashing out of the tournament before the half-way stage.
Four of the world’s top five have now been dumped out of this year’s showpiece, with 2021 champion Peter Wright the highest seed left standing at the Winter Gardens.
Smith’s bid for a maiden World Matchplay crown was curtailed by a deadly Dobey, who won nine of the last 11 legs to reach the last eight at this event for the first time in his career.
World number one Smith looked imperious in racing 3-0 and 5-2 ahead, but three missed darts for a 6-2 advantage turned the tide, as Dobey followed up 72 and 130 finishes to level at five apiece.
The Masters champion continued his remarkable run of finishing to make it seven legs without reply, taking out another 72 finish, followed by a 110 checkout and a double-double 94 to storm 9-5 ahead.
Smith finally stopped the rot to preserve his slender hopes, before Dobey capped off a remarkable comeback with 15 and 16-dart holds to celebrate a landmark victory.
“I’m overwhelmed. Playing one of your best mates on stage is never going to be easy,” admitted Dobey, who now takes on his stablemate Nathan Aspinall for a place in the semi-finals.
“I don’t think I was in the game early doors. I’m not sure how I was level at 5-5, and that gave me the motivation to kick on, and when I got in front I didn’t let him back in.
“It’s a great feeling when you get nights like this. If my finishing is there I know I’m going to be hard to beat, and tonight was that night."
Meanwhile, Price - installed as an 11/4 favourite for the title following Van Gerwen’s exit on Sunday - was sent packing in a tie-break by Cullen despite posting a ton-plus average and landing 11 maximums.
Cullen capitalised on Price’s early profligacy to establish a 4-1 cushion, before maintaining his advantage with a crucial 112 checkout in leg ten, with the Welshman poised to level at five apiece.
Cullen stretched his lead to 8-5 as Price continued to toil on the outer ring, until a superb 11-darter from the 2022 runner-up sparked a sequence of five straight legs as he turned the contest on its head.
However, after Price missed a match dart at the bull for a 132 checkout, Cullen sank a superb 81 skin saver on the middle double, before pinning the same target to complete a 90 kill and edge 11-10 ahead.
The Welshman responded with a brilliant tops-tops 100 finish to level at 11-11, but Cullen wasn’t to be denied, following up a two-dart 74 combination with another 112 checkout to advance.
“At times my form deserted me, but I think I earned that,” said Cullen, who also beat Price at the Winter Gardens back in 2018.
“I don’t think Gerwyn played at his best and I think subconsciously I gave him too much respect, but I’m pleased with where my game is at, and when I needed it most, I excelled.
“I think I’ve got a score to settle with myself. I’ve lost so many amazing games on the big stage, so it was about time I came out on the right end of one.”
Cullen’s reward is a last eight showdown against Daryl Gurney, who became the first player to claim a trio of wins over Gary Anderson on the World Matchplay stage.
Anderson averaged 102, but he was unable to contend with Gurney’s sustained brilliance, as the Northern Irishman averaged 104 and converted 11 of his 16 attempts at double to triumph.
Gurney produced a flawless display of doubling to storm 5-0 ahead, and he continued the procession with a sublime ten-darter before Anderson opened his account with a 121 checkout in leg seven.
However, Gurney refused to relent, following up legs of 13 and 15 darts with a clinical 100 kill to stretch his lead to 9-3, before landing a brace of holds to close out a comprehensive 11-4 victory.
“I was so focused tonight,” admitted Gurney, a two-time finalist at the Empress Ballroom.
“I knew when I got a chance I had to take it, and I’m so proud of the way I approached that game.
“I definitely believe I’ve got another TV title in me and this format lends itself to my game, but I have to reset now and produce my best in the quarter-finals."
In the evening’s other last 16 tie, Nathan Aspinall moved through to his third consecutive World Matchplay quarter-final with a hard-fought 11-9 victory against 2022 semi-finalist Danny Noppert.
There was little to separate the pair in the early exchanges, until Aspinall ended a run of five consecutive breaks by following up an 11-darter in leg nine with a comfortable hold to lead 6-4.
Aspinall retained his two-leg buffer before Noppert fired in legs of 12 and 13 darts to level at 9-9, only for the Stockport star to reply with back-to-back legs of his own to confirm his progress.
“That was so tough - I was battling with myself up there,” revealed Aspinall, who averaged 98 and crashed in eight 180s to register a third consecutive win over the Dutchman.
“I’ve not felt comfortable in either of my games, but I feel good in myself. It’s hard to explain.
“I’m confident, I’m happy and I’m buzzing to be playing, I’m not just playing as well as I’d like. Having said that, I’ve still averaged 98 in both games, so I’m going to take the positives.”
The second round action at the Betfred World Matchplay concludes on Wednesday, as former champions Wright and Dimitri Van den Bergh continue their title challenges.
Wright takes on Ryan Searle – who produced the performance of the first round in Blackpool – while 2020 winner Van den Bergh plays Jonny Clayton in his last 16 tussle.
Luke Humphries and Dirk van Duijvenbode will collide in a fascinating tie, while Michael van Gerwen’s conqueror, Brendan Dolan, faces Australian number one Damon Heta.
The Betfred World Matchplay will be broadcast live on Sky Sports in the UK, through the PDC's worldwide broadcast partners including DAZN and Viaplay, and on PDCTV (excluding UK, Germany, Austria & Switzerland based subscribers).
Images courtesy of Taylor Lanning/PDC
2023 Betfred World Matchplay
Tuesday July 18
4x Second Round
Daryl Gurney 11-4 Gary Anderson
Nathan Aspinall 11-9 Danny Noppert
Joe Cullen 13-11 Gerwyn Price
Chris Dobey 11-7 Michael Smith
Wednesday July 19 (1900 BST)
4x Second Round
Brendan Dolan v Damon Heta
Jonny Clayton v Dimitri Van den Bergh
Peter Wright v Ryan Searle
Luke Humphries v Dirk van Duijvenbode
Thursday July 20 (2000 BST)
Joe Cullen v Daryl Gurney
Chris Dobey v Nathan Aspinall