JOE Cullen came through a topsy-turvy third round clash at Alexandra Palace against Ryan Searle yesterday, winning 4-2 to reach the last-16 of the PDC World Darts Championship.

The Bradford ace raced into a 2-0 lead against ‘Heavy Metal’, only to stumble and find himself pegged back to 2-2.

Searle should have moved 3-2 ahead soon after, but disastrously missed seven set darts to let Cullen back in.

And the Wyke star, who had been cutting an increasingly forlorn figure on the Ally Pally stage, needed no second invitation, stealing that fifth set and winning the sixth to seal his place in the last-16.

The highlight for Cullen in the opening set was a brilliant 121 checkout in the first leg to break throw immediately.

That 20-T17-bull finish proved to be his highest of the match and was part of a high-quality first set from the 14th seed, where he averaged 101 and missed only one dart at double.

A messy start to the second set saw Searle and Cullen miss seven darts at double between them in the opening leg, only for the former to finally checkout on D10.

But the Bradfordian broke back with 66, before almost landing a sensational 156 finish moments later.

He settled for a D18 checkout instead, then broke again to go two sets in front.

Searle hit back emphatically in set three, after winning an ugly opening leg full of missed doubles from both players.

A 60 finish followed to put ‘Heavy Metal’ in control, before ‘The Rockstar’ unluckily wired the bull on a 170 attempt, allowing his opponent to checkout on 48 and halve the deficit.

A pair of easy holds in set four meant that went to a deciding leg, which Cullen threw away by failing to land a 36 finish.

Even so, Searle still had to checkout 124 to get back to 2-2, but he did just that, nailing the bullseye to steal the set.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Ryan Searle (left) was getting on top at one point, and looked set to record a comeback win over Joe Cullen.Ryan Searle (left) was getting on top at one point, and looked set to record a comeback win over Joe Cullen. (Image: PA.)

Cullen looked to have shrugged that disappointment off by winning the first two legs of set five, but he blew three darts at tops when he was on the verge of a whitewash.

Searle, the 19th seed, smelt blood, snatching that leg, then pinning 60 to break in 12 darts.

The long-haired Somerset thrower was in total control, and had seven attempts at double to go 3-2 in front.

But he somehow missed all of them, allowing Cullen to clear up 85 and pinch an against-all-odds lead in the match.

Searle’s brain looked to be scrambled after that, and a dreadful attempt at checking out 25 let his Bradford rival in to take the opening leg of set six.

A composed 90 finish put Cullen a leg away from the last-16, but his opponent produced a brilliant 104 checkout to stay in the game.

Searle then held throw to bring the set back level, but the Wyke ace stayed composed for the deciding leg, with a 177 leaving him six darts to take out 167.

Cullen sensibly used three of those to set up tops, which he landed at his first attempt to seal a last-16 spot with a match average of 96.51 and his finishing on the doubles at 40 per cent.

A win for Cullen in his next game would ensure a first-ever quarter-final appearance at the Worlds for the Bradford man.