World Grand-Prix Champion Robert Thornton was sent packing at the first-round stage of the European Championships in Hasselt, as he was beaten 6-4 by fellow Scot John Henderson.
The Thorn, who secured his second PDC major in Dublin just three weeks ago, struggled for consistency throughout and Henderson took full advantage to progress through to the Last 16.
Henderson established a 4-2 lead as Thornton showed surprisingly fragility on the doubles, hitting just 2 from 11 attempts. However, the World Grand Prix Champion responded superbly, posting successive ton-plus finishes of 101 and 121 to restore parity. Suddenly, The Thorn had all the momentum and appeared favourite to clinch victory.
However, ‘Big John’ showed tremendous character to bounce back, posting a brilliant 124 checkout for a 12-darter and a break of throw. He followed that up with two 180’s in the tenth leg, securing victory with a brilliant 111 checkout.
Henderson will face Austrian youngster Rowby-John Rodriguez in the last 16, who prevailed in a topsy-turvy contest against former Lakeside World Champion, Christian Kist. Kist won the opening leg in 21 darts, before Rodriguez reeled off 5 successive legs to move within one leg of victory.
Suddenly, Kist began to relax as with victory seemingly unattainable and his darts improved. Rowby was throwing erratically with the finishing line in sight, which allowed the Dutchman to reduce the arrears to 5-3.
Then in the ninth leg, Kist delivered back-to-back maximums to leave himself on a nine-darter. He came agonisingly close to the perfect-leg, hitting eight perfect darts, although his ninth and decisive dart was nearer Germany than the D12, landing in the single 9 bed.
Kist eventually clinched the leg on D2, but consecutive visits of 140 and 180 for Rodriguez enabled him to scramble over the line by a 6-4 score-line.
World Number 8 Ian White was also another big name casualty in the first-round this afternoon. He faced Stephen Bunting, who has enjoyed a revival in fortune since reverting back to his old darts.
Bunting stormed into an early 3-0 advantage, as White’s average languished in the high 70’s; nevertheless the Stoke star bounced back superbly, winning three consecutive legs to level up proceedings.
The next four legs went with throw, to force the first last-leg decider of this year’s European Championships. White left himself on D12 after just 12 darts, but the advantage of throw proved decisive, as the Bullet held his nerve superbly, taking out 64 on D18 to clinch a 6-5 win.
World Number 4 Peter Wright avoided a first-round upset as he beat 2014 Lakeside finalist Alan Norris 6-3 in a scrappy encounter. Neither man was at their best, but Wright edged 3-2 ahead at the first interval.
Snakebite improved considerably after the break, taking out 81 for a 12-darter to double his lead, but Norris delivered an instant riposte, taking out a brilliant 130 finish, culminating on D5.
However, ‘Chuck’ was unable to seriously threaten Wright’s throw and after moving 5-3 ahead, Snakebite triumphed in the ninth leg, posting a 100 finish for a 12-darter.
2012 European Champion Simon Whitlock eased through to the second round in Belgium, as he overcame experienced Swede Magnus Caris 6-2. Caris moved 1-0 ahead and missed two darts at D18 to double his advantage. This proved costly, as the Wizard cruised into a commanding 4-1 lead at the first interval.
Caris was scoring reasonably well, but profligacy on the doubles was becoming a frustrating pattern for the 1994 World Championship semi-finalist. He converted just 1 double from 12 attempts, whereas Whitlock was in clinical mood.
Caris managed to win another leg courtesy of D20, but this only delayed the inevitable, as Whitlock himself hit D20 to move through to the last 16 with a 6-2 win, where he’ll face the winner of the Gary Anderson v Brendan Dolan match.
Michael Smith won a high-quality contest against Gerwyn Price to set up a potential last 16 clash against Phil Taylor. Smith and Price have met in the opening round for three consecutive major tournaments, but the St Helen’s ace was in excellent form to secure consecutive major wins against the Welshman.
After racing into a 3-1 advantage, Price responded superbly, winning three legs on the spin to move 4-3 ahead. However, the ninth leg proved decisive, as ‘Bully-Boy’ capitalised on an indifferent scoring leg from the Iceman to lead 5-4, before he converted 58 for a 14-darter which sealed victory.
Smith’s vulnerability is often his doubling, but he was in clinical mood, hitting 6 doubles from just 9 attempts and averaging 98 in the process. He will relish the prospect of facing either Phil Taylor or Vincent van der Voort on Saturday evening.
Elsewhere, Justin Pipe was in fine-form as he beat enigmatic Dutchman Dirk van Duijvenbode, who boasts one of the most entertaining walk-ons in World Darts. Pipe was in blistering form in the opening exchanges, hitting a delightful 125 checkout to move 3-0 ahead with a 112 average.
Van Duijvenbode was visibly nervous on his TV debut and ‘The Force’ exploited his uncertainty to set up the prospect of a whitewash victory. The 23-year-old Dutchman gained some respectability by winning the first two-legs after the interval, but Pipe finished the job with a classy 108 finish.
In the opening match of the tournament, Cristo Reyes produced a fantastic display to ease past World Youth Championship finalist Max Hopp 6-2. Reyes, who rose to prominence with a tremendous run to the last 16 of last year’s World Championship, averaged over 100 against an out-of-sorts Hopp.
Unibet European Championship
Friday October 30
Afternoon Session (1.45pm-6pm local time, 12.45pm-5pm UK time)
First Round x8
Cristo Reyes 6-2 Max Hopp
Christian Kist 4-6 Rowby-John Rodriguez
Simon Whitlock 6-2 Magnus Caris
Justin Pipe 6-2 Dirk van Duijvenbode
Michael Smith 6-4 Gerwyn Price
Ian White 5-6 Stephen Bunting
Robert Thornton 4-6 John Henderson
Peter Wright 6-3 Alan Norris