Rob Cross and Raymond van Barneveld produced brilliant comeback victories against Michael Smith and Gerwyn Price on an eventful night of action at Leeds’ First Direct Arena, as Michael van Gerwen moved to the top of the table with victory over Simon Whitlock on Thursday evening.
Smith began the evening top of the table, having won his opening four matches on his return to the Premier League fold. The St Helen’s star appeared poised to make it five from five after establishing a 5-3 cushion, but the world champion produced a stirring fightback to claim his third straight win and move up to fourth in the table.
Smith comprehensively outscored ‘Voltage’ in the early stages but was punished for missing a multitude of darts at double, particularly his favoured tops. The St Helen’s star led 4-2, before Cross replied with a 112 kill, but ‘Bully Boy’ restored his two leg buffer with a clinical 72 outshot culminating on D20.
Nevertheless, the former electrician sparked into action during the latter stages to end Smith’s 100% record in the competition. He completed a 64 kill on D8 to reduce the arrears to 5-4, before landing a timely maximum, and defying one from Smith, to peg D4 with his last dart in hand and restore parity at five apiece.
Cross was growing in confidence and when it mattered most; he produced two sublime legs. He followed up his fourth maximum with a brilliant 11-darter to guarantee himself a point, before landing a fifth 180 and crashing in a spectacular 121 outshot on the bullseye, to seal victory with a 12-darter and a 96.22 average.
He reflected: “That bull finish at the end was massive. It’s good to have that when you really need it. I’m starting to feel more comfortable and relaxed now but I need to start matches quicker and not give people a start. I play Mensur Suljovic next week and I know I need to be better and put the pressure on throughout, not just at the end of matches.”
Raymond van Barneveld also came from 5-3 down earlier in the evening to stun Gerwyn Price. The Welshman appeared poised to secure his first ever Premier League victory, but the five-time world champion produced an exhibition of finishing in the latter stages to secure his second win of the season.
Both men struggled in the early stages, with the opening four legs all going against throw. The next three legs then all went with throw, before Price followed up scores of 140, 140 and 134 with a brilliant 87 finish for a 12-dart break of throw. ‘The Iceman’ appeared in total control at 5-3, but RvB had other ideas.
The legendary Dutchman followed up a maximum with a classy 121 checkout for a 12-darter of his own, before levelling courtesy of a clinical two-dart 80 combination. Van Barneveld then powered in a brilliant 101 finish to break and guarantee himself a point, before conjuring up a nerveless 89 checkout on the bullseye to complete the comeback.
It was a stirring fightback from Van Barneveld, who averaged 91.65, posted two maximums and converted 54% of his attempts at double, to move himself further away from the elimination places having suffered back-to-back defeats prior to this week.
Barney admitted: “The PDC announced there would be two nights in Rotterdam this year so as a Dutchman you want to be there and not be eliminated before that, so this is a really big win. This is a very important win for me and I’m happy. Maybe Gerwyn deserved a point but sometimes that’s how it goes.”
“I didn’t give up. It’s so important to qualify for the second half of the season, and I’m on five points now but I’ve still got to get ready for the next four weeks. The crowd were fantastic and I loved it on stage tonight, I got an amazing reception,” he added.
World number one Michael van Gerwen leads the way after five weeks, as the world number one bounced back from his UK Open disappointment with a 7-4 victory over Simon Whitlock. ‘The Green Machine’ wasn’t at his brilliant best, but still prevailed with a 100.17 average, three maximums and a 30% checkout success rate.
‘The Wizard’ started strongly to open up a 2-0 cushion, only for Van Gerwen to level by pinning D6 and D10. However, the defending Premier League champion then spurned three clear darts to hold as Whitlock regained the lead, only for MvG to restore parity at three apiece with a crucial 110 checkout.
The pair exchanged the next two legs, before Whitlock was ruthlessly punished for missing two darts at double in the ninth leg. Van Gerwen capitalised to hold throw, before rounding-off 15 and 14-dart legs, both on D8, to complete the win and inflict a second straight league defeat on the frustrated Aussie.
Van Gerwen acknowledged that he’s not at his best at present, but was delighted with the character he showed to close out victory. He claimed: “I had to work, it wasn’t my best performance. I played OK but I am not in my best form at the moment.
“Fortunately my B-game was enough tonight against Simon and I showed character, and sometimes you need that. I’m really pleased with the two points but I know I can do better than that,” the world number one continued.
Mensur Suljovic made it back-to-back Premier League wins to move up to sixth, after thrashing a beleaguered Peter Wright 7-1. ‘Snakebite’ claimed the opening leg before the Austrian ran riot; reeling off seven legs on the spin to prevail with a 103.01 average and a 54% checkout conversion rate.
Wright drew first blood after following up a classy 171 by pinning D4, but that was as good as it got from the Scot’s perspective. Suljovic reeled off four legs on the spin to lead 4-1, before completing a nerveless 73 kill on D18 to extend his advantage.
The world number two missed D16 for a 104 finish which would have stopped the rot, but Suljovic was relentless. ‘The Gentle’ completed the win with consecutive 14-darters, both culminating on D14, to leapfrog Wright in the table and leave last year’s finalist languishing in eighth position- just one point above the drop zone.
Suljovic- last year’s Champions League of Darts winner- admitted: “Today Peter didn’t play well but I am so happy to win. I beat Peter Wright and I am so happy to be in the Premier League, I am ready for the Premier League now.”
Finally, newly crowned UK Open champion Gary Anderson survived two match darts to escape with a point against Daryl Gurney- whose wait for a first Premier League victory continues. ‘Super-Chin’ would have climbed above Anderson with victory, but ‘The Flying Scotsman’ salvaged a point- averaging 99.54 to Gurney’s 94.62.
The opening three legs all went with throw, before Anderson stole a march with a 13-darter on D14, after Gurney had squandered three clear darts at D18. However, the Northern Irishman responded magnificently; reeling off three straight legs to seize the initiative; firing in a brilliant 110 checkout to break throw in leg seven.
Gurney extended his lead to 5-3 via D5, only for Anderson to stop the rot with a 12-dart hold on tops. Nevertheless, the two-time world champion then squandered two darts at double moments later, which enabled the World Grand Prix champion to claim at least a share of the spoils.
‘Super-Chin’ appeared destined to claim his first Premier League victory, but he was left to rue missed opportunities. Anderson forced a deciding leg after nailing D18, before capitalising on two missed darts at D12 and D6 from his opponent to salvage a share of the spoils via the unorthodox route of D17.
Gurney bemoaned his missed opportunities, commenting: “It’s very frustrating, I thought the double 12 was in and I thought the double six was in but you have to give credit to Gary for sticking in there. I am playing well, not my best, but still getting opportunities. I’m missing the chances but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Anderson, fresh from his UK Open success last weekend, admitted he was struggling to produce his best, but insisted he will continue to fight. “I’m scrapping,” said Anderson. “I’m not at the top but I’m ready to fight now, before I’d have given in but now I’m up for the fight and keep plodding on.”
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC