Michael van Gerwen kicked off his Unibet Premier League title defence with an impressive 7-2 victory over world champion Rob Cross at the 3Arena in Dublin on Thursday evening, as Simon Whitlock and Michael Smith claimed valuable wins on their Premier League returns.
However, in the biggest match of the night, MvG began the defence of his crown with a comprehensive 7-2 victory over world champion Rob Cross. Cross memorably defeated Van Gerwen in an epic semi-final clash at the recent World Championship, but ‘The Green Machine’ sent out a statement of intent with a dominant display in Dublin.
The world number one crashed in an incredible hat-trick of 114 finishes en route to victory with a 101.23 average, as Cross’ Premier League debut ended in defeat. Despite this, the newly crowned world champion did little wrong; averaging 98.97 and successfully converting two of his five darts at a double.
‘Mighty Mike’ made a sensational start; drawing first blood with a fine 114 finish, before completing an 11-dart break of throw with a clinical two-dart 81 combination. The Dutchman extended his lead via D10, but Cross opened his account with a crucial 70 kill. Nevertheless, he was unable to halt a ruthless Van Gerwen.
The reigning Premier League champion followed up his second 114 outshot with another spectacular 11-darter, before incredibly converting a 114 checkout for a third time to move 6-1 ahead and guarantee himself a point. ‘Voltage’ doubled his tally with a 14-darter, but this simply delayed the inevitable, as MvG closed out an emphatic win via D8.
Simon Whitlock returned to the Premier League with a bang, producing the performance of the night to defeat debutant Mensur Suljovic 7-5 in a thrilling affair. ‘The Wizard’ was sensational; averaging 106.49, piling in thirteen 140’s, two maximums and converting 86% of his attempts at double to recover from 3-1 down to edge out ‘The Gentle’.
Suljovic stormed into an early 3-1 lead, following up classy 121 and 110 finishes with a 14-dart break via D4. However, Whitlock responded superbly. The 2012 Premier League finalist fired in his first maximum and dispatched an 81 kill for a 12-dart break back, before restoring parity at three apiece with an assured 13-dart hold.
The Aussie crashed in a stunning 11-dart leg to secure the lead, before conjuring up a majestic 160 finish for his fourth straight leg and a 5-3 cushion. Suljovic then recorded the fourth ton-plus finish of the contest to stop the rot; taking out 138 (T20, T20, D9) out of nowhere to reduce the arrears to 5-4.
The Champions League winner levelled up proceedings at five apiece with a 13-darter via D18, but the pendulum swung once more in the closing stages. Whitlock followed up three straight 140’s with his second 81 finish of the game (S19, T12, D13) to break inside 12 darts, before sealing a stunning victory with a 13-darter culminating on D16.
Elsewhere, Michael Smith reeled off six straight legs to stun his injury-hit mentor Gary Anderson to mark his Premier League return with a victory. ‘Bully-Boy’ claimed the solitary win in his debut campaign back in 2016, but he punished 21 missed darts at double from the Scot to prevail with an 89.89 average and three maximums.
‘The Flying Scotsman’ drew first blood, before Smith levelled in 11 darts. However, the St Helen’s star then squandered four darts at double in the third, which sparked an Anderson surge. The two-time world champion picked out D10 to lead, before dispatching clinical 86, 108 and 85 finishes to establish a commanding 5-1 cushion.
Nevertheless, out of nowhere, Anderson’s injury woes resurfaced and his wayward doubling handed Smith a reprieve. The Scot spurned three darts at double as Smith reduced the deficit to 5-2 with a tidy 114 checkout, before he held throw on D5 to cut the gap to just two legs.
The two-time Premier League champion then squandered an incredible TEN darts at double for a point in the ninth and this proved to be his undoing. Smith levelled at five apiece with a 15-darter on tops, guaranteed himself a point with a nerveless 72 kill, before wrapping up the win with his sixth straight leg via D10.
Raymond van Barneveld fought back from 6-3 behind to salvage a point against debutant Daryl Gurney in another topsy-turvy tussle. ‘Super-Chin’ averaged 93.23 and landed five maximums, only to miss three match darts as Van Barneveld claimed a share of the spoils with a 93.78 average, four 180’s and a 30% checkout conversion rate.
The Northern Irishman received a hostile reception from the Dublin crowd, but he made a blistering start, romping into a 2-0 lead with legs of 12 and 14 darts. However, Van Barneveld then exploited seven missed darts across two legs from Gurney to reel off three straight legs to seize the initiative, only for Gurney to break back via D12.
The World Grand Prix champion regained the lead via D4 after Van Barneveld failed to take out 64, before kicking off the following leg with back-to-back maximums. The five-time world champion had the opportunity to level at four apiece, but missed the bull for a 170 and failed to peg D16 on his return, as Gurney hit D10 to secure a 5-3 lead.
‘Super-Chin’ then crashed in a majestic 11-darter to confirm a share of the spoils, but Barney stopped the rot via D16, before punishing three missed match darts from the Northern Irishman to force a dramatic decider. Gurney left 60 after just 12 darts but it was to no avail, as Van Barneveld dispatched a nerveless 79 outshot to clinch a point.
Finally, Gerwyn Price fought back from 5-1 behind to claim a share of the spoils against an off-colour Peter Wright in the last match of the opening night. Wright was again using new darts as he took on the Welshman in a repeat of last year’s UK Open Final, but Price showed impressive character to avoid defeat on his Premier League debut.
‘Snakebite’ drew first blood after hitting D16 at the sixth attempt to lead 1-0, before doubling his lead with a 13-darter on tops. Price registered his first leg after following up his first maximum with a 15-dart hold on tops, but ‘The Iceman’ was later punished for profligacy in the next three legs as last year’s runner-up stretched his lead.
The former Rugby League star spurned eight darts at double across three legs which enabled Wright to open up a 5-1 advantage, despite averaging a modest 85. However, the UK Open finalist responded impressively. He reduced the arrears to 5-2 with a vital 116 finish, before nailing tops to cut the gap to just two legs.
The Scot replied by pinning D3 in the ninth to guarantee himself a point, but with his back against the wall, Price produced some inspired arrows. He fired in back-to-back 11-darters to force a decider in which he had the throw, before enjoying some good fortune to snatch a point via D10, after Wright missed three darts for the match.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
Unibet Premier League
Night One- Thursday 1st February
Mensur Suljovic 5-7 Simon Whitlock
Gary Anderson 5-7 Michael Smith
Daryl Gurney 6-6 Raymond van Barneveld
Michael van Gerwen 7-2 Rob Cross
Peter Wright 6-6 Gerwyn Price