Jose De Sousa – the maverick man. Portugal’s Man O’Scores is dubbed ‘The Special One’ and he demonstrated why in Milton Keynes on Thursday night, producing a virtuoso display to dispatch Nathan Aspinall 8-3, in a dress-rehearsal ahead of their semi-final showdown on Finals Night.
Aspinall began the evening in second position and was in the hunt for top spot prior to his clash against De Sousa, but the Grand Slam champion quashed his hopes with a dominant display, averaging 103.25, firing in three 180s and converting 50% of his attempts at double.
However, the highlight of his performance came in the opening leg, courtesy of an audacious 120 checkout. De Sousa is renowned for his unconventional approach in the finishing department; he has taken out multiple double, double finishes in this year’s Premier League, but he produced a televised first against ‘The Asp’, landing three successive darts at tops to complete the Shanghai checkout.
There were 1,000 fans packed into the Marshall Arena for the final night of league phase action and De Sousa’s sensational finish sparked chants of: ‘Jose De Sousa, he scores what he wants,” much to the amusement of Aspinall, who responded with a majestic 152 checkout of his own in the very next leg.
Nevertheless, last year’s runner-up was rendered helpless against the irrepressible ‘Special One’, who converted another tops, tops finish in leg nine, before wrapping up victory with a stunning 149 combination.
That wasn’t all though. De Sousa’s tally of three maximums saw him set a new Premier League record for the most 180s in a tournament (81) – usurping Gary Anderson’s tally of 79 – set by ‘The Flying Scotsman’ on his debut back in 2011, when he went on to lift the title.
“It was a great feeling to play so well in front of this amazing crowd,” said De Sousa. “Three double tops was for the fans, but I wanted to show it can be done. I don’t play to break records, but it is nice to hit so many 180s. It has been a fantastic first season in the Premier League for me. I am very happy with the way things are going right now.”
Aspinall’s defeat ensured that Michael van Gerwen topped the league phase for the eighth time in nine seasons, and ‘The Green Machine’ enjoyed the perfect preparations for Finals Night with an 8-6 success against Peter Wright, in a repeat of the 2017 showpiece.
Van Gerwen prevailed in a topsy-turvy contest which featured seven consecutive breaks of throw, averaging 100.20, while landing checkouts of 145, 126 and 113 to head into the Play-Offs on the back of a hat-trick of victories.
“To top the table is really important for me, but the tournament isn’t finished yet,” said Van Gerwen. “I want to win that title tomorrow. I can’t really complain with 23 points, considering where I came from last year. It’s always nice to beat Peter, he is a class player and I enjoyed playing in front of the phenomenal crowd tonight.”
The five-time Premier League champion will take on Masters champion Jonny Clayton in Friday’s opening semi-final, after ‘The Ferret’ prevailed 8-6 in his winner-takes-all clash against World Matchplay holder Dimitri Van den Bergh. Clayton knew that a point would be enough to book his semi-final berth, and he duly delivered under major pressure.
Van den Bergh averaged over 100 and fired in six maximums in another high-quality showing, but the Belgian was denied by a clinical Clayton, who averaged 103.92 in a thrilling contest. The solitary break of throw came in leg three and Van den Bergh was unable to overturn the deficit, as the Welshman also produced a brace of 121 checkouts.
“Tonight was an absolutely massive game, probably the biggest I’ve ever played in my life,” said Clayton, who is guaranteed £80,000 for reaching the top four – the biggest payday of his career to date.
“To reach the Play-Offs in my first year in the Premier League, I’m delighted to have got over the line. Hopefully I can do this year after year, but I’ve got nothing to lose now. I’m here to win like everybody else, I just need to two more wins. The crowd were superb, their support means so much to me.”
The evening kicked off with a meeting between two former Premier League champions, as James Wade and Gary Anderson locked horns. Both men were out of top-four contention prior to Night 16, yet they still delivered a quality contest. ‘The Flying Scotsman’ averaged over 100 and crashed in five maximums, but it was Wade who claimed the two points, to round off his 11th Premier League campaign on a high.
Image: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
2021 Unibet Premier League
Night 16, Thursday May 27
Gary Anderson 6-8 James Wade
Nathan Aspinall 3-8 Jose de Sousa
Peter Wright 6-8 Michael van Gerwen
Dimitri Van den Bergh 6-8 Jonny Clayton
Play-Offs, Friday May 28
Michael van Gerwen v Jonny Clayton
Jose de Sousa v Nathan Aspinall
Best of 19 legs
Van Gerwen/Clayton v De Sousa/Aspinall
Best of 21 legs