Nathan Aspinall moved top of the Premier League table with an emphatic 8-3 win over Michael van Gerwen on Night 13 in Milton Keynes, to leapfrog the Dutchman on a night which celebrated darts’ return of fans.
Following over five months since a live crowd were able to attend a major PDC tournament, almost 700 fans flocked to the Marshall Arena as the final week of the 2021 Premier League began – the first Premier League Darts night to feature a live audience since March 2020.
Van Gerwen began the night in top spot after registering three consecutive victories during the last batch of fixtures, but it was Aspinall who rose to the occasion in a partisan atmosphere, to claim a precious two points in his bid for a play-off spot.
The former UK Open champion opened up proceedings with a classy 120 checkout, and he repeated the feat in leg five, albeit via a different route, to establish a 4-1 cushion.
Aspinall – last year’s runner-up – then stretched his lead to 5-1 before Van Gerwen responded with back-to-back ton-plus finishes, but the three-time world champion was unable to make further inroads, losing the next three legs as ‘The Asp’ closed out a convincing 8-3 success, averaging 96.9 and converting 57% of his attempts at double.
“It’s a massive two points and it was a great buzz tonight,” reflected Aspinall. “I was really nervous coming into the game because we’ve missed the fans, and win or lose I wanted to enjoy it tonight.
“This is what darts is all about, and I loved every minute of it. I think we were both trying too hard to play well but the crowd were got me through.
“I finished really well and when I get a bit of a lead I felt more comfortable. It wasn’t my best performance, but the two 120 finishes won me the game and it’s a very good two points.”
Jose De Sousa moved up to third with a battling 8-6 win over Dimitri Van den Bergh, to complete the league double over the World Matchplay champion. The Belgian occupied top spot just a few nights ago but now finds himself outside the top four, with just three rounds of fixtures remaining.
‘The Special One’ registered a break of throw in leg four as he opened up a 4-1 lead, and landed a superb 11-darter as he secured at least a point at 7-4. Van den Bergh rallied with legs of 13 and 14 darts to force a decider in which he had the throw, but De Sousa landed a timely third 180 before pinning D10 to extend his unbeaten run to five matches.
“It’s a wonderful feeling,” said De Sousa. “I didn’t feel the pressure and it’s nice to see the crowd behind us again. The fans know the player and the person that I am and I got a lot of respect from them.
“I know this is a big win for me. Every game in the Premier League is very difficult and every point is important. It was a difficult game for both of us because Dimitri is a great player and I think he can maybe be World Champion in the next few years, so I’m very happy to get this win.”
Van den Bergh now trails fourth-placed Jonny Clayton by a solitary point heading into Night 14, after ‘The Ferret’ produced a clinical display to dispatch Gary Anderson 8-1 in the evening’s opener, despite ‘The Flying Scotsman’ averaging 104.48 in a high-quality tussle.
It was a contest decided by fine margins, with Anderson wiring the bullseye for a combination finish on four separate occasions, and he was punished by the Welshman in all of those legs, as the Masters champion closed out the comprehensive win with a 101.24 average, three 180s and 57% on the outer ring.
“It was absolutely brilliant,” said Clayton. “It’s a massive buzz because the crowd makes darts, so it was amazing to get them back and the atmosphere was fantastic.
“I had a few people cheering for me and there were a couple of Welsh flags, in, so it’s a proud moment. I was so nervous before I went on but I relaxed and my darts kept going. I took my chances and I’ve done my job – I’m chasing a dream and I’ll keep turning up over the next three days and working hard.”
Elsewhere, Peter Wright dealt a huge blow to James Wade’s play-off aspirations with a convincing 8-4 success over ‘The Machine’ in the evening’s finale. Wright’s top four hopes are also hanging by a thread, yet he produced an impressive performance to secure his first victory since Night Eight.
Wade stormed into an early 2-0 advantage, courtesy of an 11-dart hold in the opening leg. However, Wright reeled off two 11-darters of his own en route to establishing a 4-2 cushion, before converting a clinical 103 kill in leg ten en route to victory, with Wade poised on a two-darter to level at five apiece.
Both Wright and Wade sit five points adrift of the top four with just three league games remaining – but the former finalist was elated after being cheered to victory for the first time since December by a live audience.
“The crowd make such a difference, it was amazing,” admitted Wright. “They inspired me and I feel so alive – it was so nice being nervous backstage!
“All the crowd played their part because I’ve missed them. Last year I won my last four games to make the Play-Offs so if I’m playing well then everyone else has got to watch out.”
Image Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
2021 Unibet Premier League
Marshall Arena, Milton Keynes
Night 13, Monday May 24
Jonny Clayton 8-1 Gary Anderson
Jose de Sousa 8-6 Dimitri Van den Bergh
Nathan Aspinall 8-3 Michael van Gerwen
James Wade 4-8 Peter Wright
Night 14 – Tuesday May 25 (1900 BST)
James Wade v Nathan Aspinall
Jonny Clayton v Jose de Sousa
Gary Anderson v Michael van Gerwen
Peter Wright v Dimitri Van den Bergh
Best of 14 legs