Zoran Lerchbacher will meet Krzysztof Ratajski at the World Darts Championship after a tense 3-2 win over Jamie Hughes.

Hughes was widely expected to win, given that his sterling 2019 form contrasting heavily with Lerchbacher’s. The Black Country star set off in the right manner, starting his World Darts Championship campaign with a break of throw.

But that advantage was short-lived. Lerchbacher bounced back well, and the Austrian struck a first 180 before landing double eight for a break back. Under serious pressure from Hughes, the Hyperkane checked out 74 in two to hold.

An outstanding 11-dart leg balanced the books, before Lerchbacher prevailed in a nervy deciding leg to take the opening set.

Back and forth

The first three legs of set two all went with throw. That didn’t tell the full story, however – Lerchbacher threatened to break, but Hughes kept his cool to find tops with his last dart in hand for an 80 finish. That made it 2-1; a 180 set up the one-dart finish that made it 3-1 moments later.

With a first set of the 2020 World Darts Championship under his belt, Hughes had the platform to assert his superiority.

He looked likely to do so, with a break kicking off set three in style. Yet Lerchbacher wouldn’t go down without a fight, and a 121 check rounded off a 12-darter, for a second immediate break back of the game.

Hughes gave the Austrian a dose of his own medicine, topping the 121 with 130 on the bull to regain an advantage. It looked like there would be no reprieve for Lerchbacher as Hughes lined up 52 for the set. But Yozza slipped, and his opponent took full advantage.

A decisive fifth leg was one-way traffic; Lerchbacher strode clear, and with Hughes adrift, double four cleaned up set three for the underdog.

Tense finale

A shock seemed well and truly in the offing when Lerchbacher nailed a 131 finish for a break to start the fourth set. An instant response was needed. Hughes almost failed to provide it. After Lerchbacher matched a 180 from his opponent, three darts at double 12 were squandered. It left the Tipton thrower able to break back with tops.

Another 180 gave Lerchbacher a sniff at leg three; Hughes quickly extinguished those hopes. They were quickly reignited with two missed set darts. Lerchbacher found double four, and yet another set went all the way.

The pair traded 180s to leave the outcome in doubt. Lerchbacher left tops to have a chance at the match, only for Hughes to check out 80 for a skin-saving set victory.

Austria’s World Cup of Darts representative steamed into a two-set lead to once again leave Hughes on the precipice. A beautifully timed 177 set up the finale, but eight match darts went badly astray.

Hughes couldn’t believe his luck. The leg finally swung in his favour, and Yozza duly backed it up by levelling the encounter at two sets apiece, two-all in legs.

That meant sudden death. As in the spirit of this topsy-turvy tussle, there was no telling who would prevail. In the end it was Lerchbacher, with the Austrian striking double eight for a win that secures his PDC Tour Card for 2020.

Next up for him is a tricky match-up against another in-form star in Ratajski.

Click here for more information on the PDC World Championship which takes place at the Alexandra Palace between December 13 and January 1.

PDC World Darts Championship 2020 schedule

Saturday 14 December, evening session

Mark McGeeney (93.66) 3-1 (88.33) Matt Campbell (R1)

Jamie Hughes (95.47) 2-3 (94.22) Zoran Lerchbacher (R1)

Raymond van Barneveld vs Darin Young (R1)

Rob Cross [2] vs Kim Huybrechts (R2)

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Author: Ed McCosh