Sadly, for Stephen Bunting there will be no return to the Palace after Christmas this time around.

Defeat to Ross Smith in his opening match left the Bullet without any more shots to fire in the 2022 World Championships.

Bunting was always up against it. A poor start in the match saw Smudger take an early 1-0 in sets lead without registering a single leg.

However, the Liverpudlian did manage to fight his way back into the contest and find his feet. In set two, he was looking down the barrel with Smith throwing to double his lead.

An excellent turnaround from the Bullet saw him come back from a 2-0 leg deficit to level things up at one set a piece.

Spurred on from that strong recovery, Bunting took control of the match taking the third set comfortably.

Unfortunately, that is as good as it got for the former Lakeside World Champion as Smudger shot back immediately to level the game up and take us into a fifth set decider.

Needing to win by two clear legs, the final set went with throw. Smith produced a remarkable 167 checkout with his own darts to edge his way closer to the winning line and take a 3-2 lead.

He then managed to wrestle the darts from his opponent and close the contest with another superb ton plus finish, this time on 102 for the match.

For Bunting, it is now a time to recollect his thoughts and get prepared for a busy 2022.

Speaking after the match, Stephen said: “I’m bitterly disappointed but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

“On rankings, Ross was the second hardest player I could have drawn. I wish him all the very best for the remainder of the tournament.

“I’d like to thank my family, sponsors, fans and friends for their continued support. I will be back.

“Wishing everyone a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.”

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