Magic arrows in Odyssey air
The Premier Darts League made its first trip to the Odyssey Arena last night for, what proved to be, a remarkable showcase of the popularity of the sport in Northern Ireland.
More than 5,000 people packed the arena, and were in raptures throughout the event, so much so that the Sky Sports interviews were drowned out by the sheer vociferousness of the crowd at the start of their live broadcast.
The evening's top match-up saw first against third, as league leader James Wade went down 8-6 to Raymond van Barneveld. "Barney" made a poor start, however, finding himself 3-1 down before winning the next two legs, rebounding to 3-3.
With both men impressive in their finishing, this was a tight encounter, exemplified by both men hitting 180s in the 12th leg. But it was Barneveld who finally triumphed with a superb 157 check-out.
Unarguably the greatest darts player of all-time, Phil Taylor, showed his dominance in the second encounter, trouncing PDL top four player " Hawaii 501" Wayne Mardle 8-1.
Mardle, whose Belfast fanbase scattered the Odyssey with hundreds of Hawaiian shirts, simply couldn't handle the current league champion, who showed amazing precision to go 5-0 up, before securing the required eight legs, with only one conceded.
"I'm very happy with the win, though I could have played a little better," said Taylor after the match. "I'm now really looking to Peter Manley next week. He's the man that beat me when I last lost. This competition is going down to the wire, and it's going to be very tense."
Despite the brilliance of Taylor, the most exciting contest of the evening was the opening one, as Peter Manley and Adrian Lewis went head to head in a tremendous encounter before drawing 7-7.
Manley appeared to be in control when he went 4-1 up, but Lewis showed great character to bring the score back to 5-4 and then 6-6, including two 180s in the 10th and 11th legs.
The stage was set for Manley to take the match in the most climactic of circumstances, when a bullseye would have concluded the match 8-6. But, when he missed, Lewis was there to capitalise with a 'double-top' to force the draw.
In the other match last night, world champion John Part defeated Terry Jenkins, but he had much more trouble than expected after going 7-2 up. From looking down and out, Jenkins turned things around from that point, and came back to 7-5, including a 136 finish in the 12th leg. Part, however, regained his composure to close out the match with a double-eight.
The evening's results left Taylor top by one point over Wade, with both they and van Barneveld guaranteed of advancing to the semi-finals.
The last spot there will be decided by the results of Taylor v Manley, and Lewis v Mardle, to take place next week in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.