Gerwyn Price was left to rue missed opportunities as he was denied a first ever victory over Michael van Gerwen, while Rob Cross defeated hometown hero Daryl Gurney to regain top spot in the Premier League on a dramatic night of action in Belfast on Thursday.
Following Raymond van Barneveld’s elimination in Rotterdam last week, the focus now switches to the race for a top four spot, with just six points separating the remaining eight players prior to Thursday’s action, as the four games took place over an extended best of 14 legs format.
However, the match of the night at the SSE Arena saw Price and Van Gerwen share the spoils. The Welshman had lost all 15 of his previous encounters against ‘The Green Machine’ but he appeared poised to make history after enjoying a rip-roaring start.
Van Gerwen secured the opening leg in 15 darts having missed the bull for a 170 outshot, but Price then reeled off five consecutive legs to establish a commanding cushion, which included brilliant 90 and 128 finishes for back-to-back 12-darters.
The world number one reeled off three consecutive legs to reduce the arrears to 5-4, before ‘The Iceman’ regained his buffer with a 13-dart hold. Price then guaranteed himself a point in leg 12 after Van Gerwen missed three clear darts at double, but the drama didn’t end there.
Van Gerwen took out a brilliant 90 checkout with two double 18s to force a deciding leg, in which Price had the advantage of throw. The Welshman then scored 140, 135 and 180 only to miss two match darts at tops as MvG took out 82 to complete an 11-darter and salvage a share of the spoils.
“Before the game I’d have taken a point but I’m still disappointed,” admitted Price. “I should have beaten him. At 4-1 or 5-1 you start to think you’ve got him right where you want him, but for three legs I went to sleep.
“You always know he’s going to come back with something big and he showed that in the last leg, but I bombed a lot of opportunities in that game. I’m disappointed but I’m happy in another way – not many people will take points from Michael. It’s so close that every point is vital.”
Van Gerwen, who is bidding to top the league phase for the seventh straight season, conceded: “I missed too many doubles and I shouldn’t put myself in that position – at one point I was on 1/11 but I always believe in myself. He played really good darts and this game had everything. I hoped I would get one chance and I’m glad he gave me it.”
The Dutchman now trails Cross by one point, after ‘Voltage’ returned to the summit with a convincing 8-4 victory over Gurney. For the second week in succession Cross was up against the local favourite, having faced Jeffrey de Zwaan on Night Nine in Rotterdam. However, the 2018 world champion produced a nerveless display to silence the partisan crowd.
Cross averaged 104.71, landed three maximums and converted three ton-plus checkouts to cap off a complete display, with his winning legs coming in 12, 13, 13, 12, 13, 14, 14 and 12 darts respectively. Gurney, fresh from his German Darts Championship glory last weekend, had no answer to his opponent’s unrelenting brilliance.
The Northern Irishman drew first blood with a 15-dart break, but Cross won four of the next five legs to lead 4-2; taking out 117 and 100 along the way. Gurney responded with a classy 112 combination, but Cross claimed three of the next four to seal a point before securing the win by taking out 124 on the bullseye.
“I hit the big scores at the right times and I’m happy with the performance and the win,”said Cross. “I’ve been scoring big and doing the right things at the right times, and darts is all about timing. If you can deliver the big shots at the right time, they hurt.”
Mensur Suljovic is up to third in the table after securing his third win over James Wade in as many weeks. ‘The Gentle’ defeated Wade on Night Six in Nottingham before accounting for the left-hander in the recent European Darts Open and history repeated itself in Belfast, as he closed out a hard-fought 8-6 success.
Suljovic recovered from 2-0 down to lead 3-2, with Wade taking out 96 to regain the initiative. Nevertheless, Suljovic rattled off four successive legs – including a ten-dart finish, to move 7-4 up. Wade nailed double 10 before taking out a delightful 137 to force a decider, but the Austrian opened the final leg with seven perfect darts – eventually pegging double six for victory.
“It’s a brilliant feeling,” said Suljovic, who has now registered five wins this season. “James got 2-0 up but I had to focus on my game and I did that. To draw seven-all would have been good but I’m so happy that I got the win because James is a brilliant player.”
Elsewhere, Michael Smith and Peter Wright shared the spoils for the second time this season, in a blow to both players’ play-off ambitions. Smith averaged 100.78 to Wright’s 90.95 but last year’s finalist was left to rue missed opportunities, as ‘Snakebite’ snatched a draw in a dramatic finale.
Smith finished 108, 130 and fired in an 11-darter in the early stages, but he was unable to claim a decisive break of throw as the opening ten legs all went with throw. Wright remarkably claimed the first break inside 14 darts in leg 11, but Smith broke back immediately with a 14-darter of his own.
The 2019 World Championship finalist then finished 85 on the bull inside 12 darts to secure a point at 7-6, but Wright held his nerve in the deciding leg; landing a timely maximum and sinking double four to record his fifth stalemate of the season.
“It’s frustrating,” admitted Smith. “I needed two points tonight to move me closer to the top four and I’m annoyed with myself, but I got a point and that’s better than getting beaten. The only leg I deserved to lose was the last one – I couldn’t finish him off and my doubles were shocking.”
“I was disappointed with my whole match”, Wright concluded. “I didn’t really start scoring until the last three or four legs and my finishing kept me in it. Both of us could still make the Play-Offs but there’s still a lot of games to go yet.”
The Premier League roadshow rolls into Liverpool next week, as league leader Cross takes on Wright. Van Gerwen and Smith collide in a repeat of last year’s Premier League final and the 2019 World Championship showpiece. Gurney will be looking to avenge his recent whitewash defeat against Wade, whilst Suljovic plays Price.
2019 Unibet Premier League
Night Ten – Thursday April 4
The SSE Arena, Belfast
Mensur Suljovic 8-6 James Wade
Michael Smith 7-7 Peter Wright
Rob Cross 8-4 Daryl Gurney
Michael van Gerwen 7-7 Gerwyn Price
Night 11 – Thursday April 11
M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool
Rob Cross v Peter Wright
Gerwyn Price v Mensur Suljovic
James Wade v Daryl Gurney
Michael Smith v Michael van Gerwen