Michael van Gerwen returned to the Premier League Darts summit with an 8-4 victory over Gary Anderson on Night 14 in Milton Keynes, and the Dutchman issued a rallying cry after confirming his place at Finals Night with two rounds of fixtures to spare.
The five-time Premier League champion underwhelmed in defeat to Nathan Aspinall on Monday, but he returned to winning ways against ‘The Flying Scotsman’, winning six of the final seven legs to prevail with a 98 average.
The Dutchman wasn’t at his blistering best, but two 116 finishes – coupled with an 11-darter in leg seven – helped Van Gerwen return to the summit, after previous table-topper Nathan Aspinall was forced to settle for a point against James Wade in the evening’s opener.
“I’m back where I belong. I had to work really hard for that. I have to do the right things for me constantly. Gary and all the players try to fire everything at me,” Van Gerwen told Sky Sports.
“Of course I didn’t play the best game of my life but I did the right shots at the most important moments and that made me win this game.”
“I want to end top of the table and I want to win this tournament. “Now I can start to focus and work towards the semi-finals. I’m going to keep enjoying playing in front of the crowds for the next couple of nights and get myself ready for Friday when I hope to lift this title again.”
Aspinall would also have sealed his play-off spot with victory over Wade, but the 2020 Premier League finalist was denied by the spirited ‘Machine’, who averaged 101, fired in five maximums and converted 39% of his attempts at double.
The 2009 Premier League champion stormed into a 2-0 lead with legs of 13 and 11 darts, but Aspinall responded by reeling off three consecutive legs without reply. The topsy-turvy nature of the contest continued, but with the scores locked at five apiece, ‘The Asp’ produced a stunning 11-darter to regain the initiative.
The Stockport star guaranteed himself a share of the spoils minutes later, only to squander one match dart at double 16 in the penultimate leg. However, while Wade salvaged a point with a 14-dart break in the decider, it wasn’t sufficient to keep his top-four bid alive.
“It wasn’t to be,” Aspinall conceded. “I’m gutted but I think a draw was probably a fair result. It would mean everything for me to get over the line and reach the Play-Offs. After the 12 months I’ve had it would prove to a lot of people that I’m not a flash in the pan. I want to keep proving people wrong, and it’s up to me now to go out and finish the job.”
Jose De Sousa took another major step to sealing his play-off qualification with a battling 8-5 victory over fellow top-four hopeful Jonny Clayton, to extend his unbeaten run to six Premier League matches. ‘The Special One’ wasn’t at his blistering best, but he punished a lethargic display from the Welshman to claim a precious two points.
Clayton’s three ton-plus finishes were the highlight of his display, but he was unable to produce his trademark power-scoring and De Sousa capitalised, despite only registering a modest tally of three maximums himself, as he eyes Gary Anderson’s tournament record dating back to 2011.
“Two points at this stage of the season is massive for me,” said De Sousa. “My dream is to win the Premier League in my first year playing in this tournament, and I still have a chance to do that so I am very happy right now.
“I know I need to keep playing at this level to have a chance to do that so I have to make sure I stay focussed for the rest of the week.”
Dimitri Van den Bergh’s hopes of securing a play-off spot were dealt a major blow at the Marshall Arena, as Peter Wright produced a stunning comeback from 5-3 adrift to prolong his slender hopes of featuring at Finals Night.
Van den Bergh averaged 106.97, fired in eight 180s and boasted a 63% checkout success rate, but it wasn’t enough to deny a sensational Snakebite, who moved up to sixth in the table courtesy of his second consecutive victory.
The Belgian appeared impregnable on his own throw in the opening exchanges, but a majestic 10-dart break in leg ten saw Wright level at five apiece, and the 2020 world champion followed this up with legs of 15 and 11-darters, before completing the win with a clinical 116 checkout.
“I’m still on a high with having the crowds back,” reflected Wright. “I didn’t play as well as I wanted to but I did enough to get the win.
“When I know I need to win legs I find a way to do it, even against the best players in the world. I’ve kept myself alive in the competition for another night at least. Every game feels like a knockout game for me now because I know I can’t afford anymore slip-ups. I will keep fighting.”
Wednesday will see the penultimate night of league phase action take place, as Clayton takes on Wright in the evening’s opener, before Van den Bergh and Wade lock horns. Aspinall and De Sousa can then secure Play-Off berths with victories over Anderson and Van Gerwen respectively in the final two matches of the evening.
Image Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
2021 Unibet Premier League
Night 14, Tuesday May 25
James Wade 7-7 Nathan Aspinall
Jonny Clayton 5-8 Jose de Sousa
Gary Anderson 4-8 Michael van Gerwen
Peter Wright 8-5 Dimitri Van den Bergh
Night 15, Wednesday May 26 (1900 BST)
Jonny Clayton v Peter Wright
James Wade v Dimitri Van den Bergh
Gary Anderson v Nathan Aspinall
Jose de Sousa v Michael van Gerwen