BRADFORD ace Joe Cullen has been knocked out of the PDC Darts World Championship at the last-16 stage for the third time in his career, but only after one of the most extraordinary games ever seen on the Alexandra Palace stage.

The 14th seed has never made the quarter-finals of the Worlds, and that record goes on, after he was beaten 4-3 by pre-tournament favourite Luke Humphries last night.

But that scoreline does not even begin to describe the drama that unfolded in a game that did not finish until 15 minutes before midnight, after a remarkable final set that took ELEVEN legs to separate the pair.

Cullen had reached this stage with a 3-0 win over Australian veteran Darren Penhall and a 4-2 victory over 19th seed Ryan Searle, but Humphries, winner of the World Grand Prix, Grand Slam of Darts and Players Championship Finals in 2023, was always going to be a step up in class.

The Wyke native produced a 78 checkout to take the opening leg of the match, but Humphries hit back with a scrappy hold, before the third seed backed that up by landing the first break of throw.

The Wyke star hit seven perfect darts in his next leg, but was not rattled by missing the eighth, taking out 16 on his 11th throw to break with ease.

Humphries failed to finish on 58 in the decisive fifth leg, with Cullen punishing him by landing D18 to take the opening set with a 101.63 average.

A relatively comfortable break for Cullen made it a great start to the second set for him, before holding after a hugely fortunate bounce-out stopped Humphries from hitting straight back.

On the verge of a nine-darter, Humphries threw the third leg away in truth with several shoddy attempts to checkout, with his Bradford opponent instead pinning D10 to go two sets up.

Cullen made a poor start to the third set, finding himself broken straight away after failing to check out 78, but an excellent 12-darter from him immediately restored parity.

With the Bradford man sat on a tempting 44 finish, Humphries landed a nerveless 78 to break back, before halving the set deficit to 2-1 with a confident fourth leg.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Luke Humphries started slowly in this last-16 clash, but rediscovered his mojo in set three. Luke Humphries started slowly in this last-16 clash, but rediscovered his mojo in set three. (Image: PA.)

Cullen failed to take out 63 in allowing his Berkshire opponent to hold and move 1-0 up in set four but quickly levelled up before breaking with a 48 finish.

The Wyke native wobbled after a blistering start to the fourth leg, allowing Humphries to break back with D7, before the third seed held throw to level the game at two sets apiece.

A seventh maximum of the game for Cullen at the start of set five paved the way for an easy hold for him, but Humphries quickly levelled the set back up before breaking his Bradford rival with a ruthless 70 finish.

Humphries missed six set darts in leg four, allowing Cullen to punish him with an 89 checkout.

That was a huge moment, as it allowed him a simple hold to go 3-2 up.

The Berkshire man shrugged off that horror show to take the opening leg of set six, and a ninth maximum for Cullen was not enough for him to level up, as he blew his shot at a 47 checkout.

A shot to finish on the bull went just wide for the Bradfordian, allowing Humphries to take a clean sweep of the set and square the game at 3-3.

To that seventh and deciding set for the ages then, which Cullen began brightly with a hold after Humphries’ near miss at breaking with 164.

The Wyke man missed in an attempt to clean up 91, but the Berkshire star could not take advantage, allowing his opponent to come back to break with D10 and put himself within a leg of victory.

But a woeful third leg let Humphries back in, before two missed match darts at D18 against the throw from Cullen meant the final set went to a tiebreaker.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: A crestfallen Joe Cullen missed two match darts to win the deciding set 3-1, instead going on to lose it, and the match, after 11 tension-filled legs.A crestfallen Joe Cullen missed two match darts to win the deciding set 3-1, instead going on to lose it, and the match, after 11 tension-filled legs. (Image: PA.)

A wonderful 116 checkout from the Bradford ace put him back on the brink of victory, but Humphries saved the match with a phenomenal 100 finish.

Cullen held throw to move 4-3 up in set seven, but a nerveless 86 from Humphries made it 4-4, with the Bradford man waiting to take out 50 to win.

The Wyke ace then missed a dart to check out, and Humphries cleared 14 to leave himself needing to simply hold throw to win.

What followed was excruciating, fingernail-biting tension.

Cullen landed two bulls in a 132 checkout attempt, but then missed double 16 to win, only for Humphries to bust his finish with an accidental D12.

The Bradford ace threw away three darts at D16, but then Humphries did the same on D5, only for Cullen to bust himself, landing in D18 when aiming for the D4 he needed.

But Humphries still couldn’t land that finish, allowing the Bradfordian to finally sweep up for 5-5 in the seventh set.

That took an extraordinary game to a sudden death leg, and with Cullen sat on 80 to win, his opponent took out 100 to win a thriller, with the pair both averaging a smidge under three figures and sharing identical records of 34 per cent on the doubles.

A devastated Cullen slunk off the stage nearly in tears, while Humphries sank to his knees in relief, that outpouring of emotion fitting for a game that had everything, which neither deserved to lose.