Mixed emotions here at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool. St Helens’ Stephen Bunting put past demons behind him on his return to the Premier League, earning a draw against former world champion, Rob Cross. Meanwhile, Michael Smith was outplayed by an in-form Peter Wright.
Michael Smith v Peter Wright
The first Merseyside man in action was Smith. He took on Wright which on paper looked like one of the games of the evening.
Smith got the match underway, hitting a 180 on the way to holding his throw and giving himself a 1-0 lead. The lead didn’t last long, however, as Wright hit back with a 180 of his own. Also holding his throw levelling the match at 1-1.
The first real big moment of the match came in the third leg, when ‘Snakebite’ hit a perfectly timed 180, leaving himself a potential 121 checkout. The world champion missed double 14, but cleaned up the leg giving himself a 2-1 lead and the first break of throw of the night.
Wright then held again in leg 4, in what was a comfortable hold. ‘Bully Boy’ then needed to hold throw if he had any chance of winning the match. However, the St Helens’ man was unable to do so, subsequently going 4-1 down and two breaks down.
In the sixth leg, Smith really needed to break back if he had any chance of winning the match. But Wright, who was averaging over 100 at the time, wired double 18 for a roof-raising 147 checkout. The missed dart at double did not matter in the end, as Smith was unable to check out 156 to break. 5-1 Wright.
Smith had to win every remaining leg now, and started his fightback in the seventh leg. Again, Wright missed double 18 for a big checkout, but Smith hit double top first dart to give himself a glimmer of hope.
In leg eight, Smith had a chance to break back with a 134 checkout. He was unable to do so and Wright didn’t give him another chance. Hitting a double with his first dart in hand on double 20. Now 6-2 to the reigning world champion, who guaranteed himself at least one point on his travels to Merseyside tonight.
Smith missed five darts in the ninth leg of the match, but still managed to hold his throw and get himself back to 6-3 down. Smith looked like a beaten man at this stage, and every leg he won seemed like damaged limitation.
It wasn’t over yet for ‘Bully Boy’. He regrouped and stole a leg back off Wright, now only 6-4 down and one break of throw. The best Smith could have hoped for was one point in his hometown.
However, a fifth 180 of the match for Wright gave him a great chance of breaking back instantly and collecting all the points here at the M&S Bank Arena. Wright then hit a sublime 145 set-up, leaving himself double 18 for the match. The Scottish superstar only needed one dart, and picked up the win here in Liverpool.
Smith will be disappointed with how he played in front of his home crowd.
Rob Cross v Stephen Bunting
The next Merseyside dartist in action was Stephen Bunting. Going into the match, ‘The Bullet’ was a massive underdog, having been beaten by Cross on Saturday in the UK Open.
In the opening leg of the match, ‘Voltage’ hit a 180 which put him miles ahead of Bunting. However, five missed darts at double from the former world champion meant the St Helens man could punish and take the opening leg, against the throw. He did just that with his first dart at double.
In the second leg, Bunting held with a tidy 15 darter, doubling his lead and giving his hometown fans something to cheer about.
In the third leg, Cross got his first leg on the board, with a tidy 14 darter. Despite Bunting leading, Cross was beginning to pepper the treble 20, hitting three 180s in the opening four legs. In the fourth leg, Bunting held his nerve and pinned double 16 to give himself a 3-1 lead.
The 34-year-old Merseysider was averaging just under the 100 mark, playing some beautiful darts and confidently hitting his doubles.
The fifth leg was a massive one. Bunting hit a 13 dart break of throw, giving himself a comprehensive 4-1 lead with two breaks of throw.
In the sixth leg, Cross got a vital break of throw back. Although Bunting was still one break of throw up, Cross was beginning to crawl back and believing he could still win the match.
The following leg, Cross hit double 16 with his last dart in hand, which could be a huge dart come the end of the match. Bunting had hit a beautiful set up of 150 to leave himself on 32. The deficit was now only one, but could have easily been three.
Another colossal leg in the eighth as Cross broke again. Bunting missed four darts at double to give himself a 5-3 lead, but Cross punished and hit tops to level things up at four legs a piece.
The wind was very much in the former world champions’ sails, as his average began to creep up. In the ninth leg, neither threw their best darts, in what was beginning to look like a tense affair. Cross checked out a beautiful 119, giving himself the lead for the first time in the match.
It was now vital for Bunting to hold his throw in the tenth leg. He did so, hitting double ten with his first dart, after nearly checking out a 160 in the throw before.
Two legs left to play. Five legs a piece. All to play for.
Cross threw a standard 18 dart leg, meaning he was not going to be beaten on his travels to Merseyside.
The final leg of the match was a big one. ‘The Bullet’ had to hold his throw to get a draw, meanwhile Cross had to win it to ensure he didn’t come unstuck to a challenger.
Bunting held his nerve and hit double 16 first dart to ensure he didn’t lose in front of his home crowd.
Although not losing, ‘The Bullet’ will be disappointed not to get the win here in Liverpool. The St Helens man will have felt he could have won the match, but at the same time will be relieved he didn’t get defeated.
Michael Smith 4-7 Peter Wright
Daryl Gurney 5-7 Glen Durrant
Gerwyn Price 5–7 Michael Van Gerwen
Rob Cross 6–6 Stephen Bunting
Gary Anderson 6–6 Nathan Aspinall