The Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff provided the backdrop for Week 9 of Premier League darts, and once again, the atmosphere was electric and the darts action mesmeric.
Already eliminated, Simon Whitlock almost provided the shock of the tournament so far against table-topping Michael van Gerwen.
Phil Taylor gave himself hope of a play-off spot as his comeback gathers pace, and new-boy Peter Wright carried on his remarkable run of form.
|Game 1||Gary Anderson 5-7 Peter Wright|
|Game 2||Michael van Gerwen 6-6 Simon Whitlock|
|Game 3||Adrian Lewis 6-6 Raymond van Barneveld|
|Game 4||Wes Newton 5-7 Dave Chisnall|
|Game 5||Phil Taylor 7-4 Robert Thornton|
|Michael van Gerwen||9||6||2||1||14|
|Raymond van Barneveld||9||3||5||1||11|
|Wes Newton (E)||9||2||2||5||6|
|Simon Whitlock (E)||9||1||3||5||5|
Gary Anderson vs. Peter Wright
Peter Wright is enjoying his debut season in Premier League darts.
Another seesaw battle, this time against Gary Anderson, set the pulses racing again, but once again, the Scot held his nerve to see out victory, a place in the semi-finals drawing ever closer.
Both players landed maximums in the opening stages, and Wright was a whisker from taking out a cool 161 finish.
Anderson was landing the doubles with regularity and keeping Wright on his toes. The breakthrough came at 5-5, when Anderson missed tops twice and double 10, allowing his opponent to at least secure the draw with a 71 checkout.
Two visits were required at the end of the 12th leg to finish the game off, but Wright's win keeps him firmly in the hunt.
He told Razwan Mirza of Sky Sports after the match:
"I knew it was going to be a hard game against Gary - it always is. He's my idol. I can play darts when I want, and I'm playing when I want, when I need to."
Phil Taylor vs. Robert Thornton
Taylor is enjoying something of a resurgence in the competition, and former UK Open champion Robert Thornton was next in the firing line.
Although Thornton had pegged back "The Power" after an opening leg, the next three legs belonged to Taylor as he found rhythm in his throw and accuracy.
A 108 to finish the fifth leg took the 16-time world champion 4-1 ahead, and his impressive average of 102.48 (per Mirza) kept him far enough ahead of Thornton for him to be able to relax at the oche.
The same can't be said for Thornton, who nearly fell off the stage after taking a tumble:
After securing himself at least a point, Taylor missed two darts for the game, allowing Thornton a sniff.
However, it only delayed the inevitable, as Taylor's more clinical finishing saw him take the points and move to within a point of a play-off place, which looked barely achievable in the opening weeks of the tournament.
Simon Whitlock vs. Michael van Gerwen
The already-eliminated Australian almost provided the shock result of this, or any other Premier League week.
Perhaps rid of the pressure and playing his natural game, "The Wizard" could take the game to van Gerwen and see if he could respond.
It all started well for the Dutchman with a 180 to open proceedings and a 100 checkout, but back came Whitlock in the next leg with a maximum of his own.
Another 180 from Whitlock and a 116 checkout took him into the lead against the throw, and if he didn't know before, van Gerwen might have realised then he was in a game.
England cricketer Alex Hales was certainly enjoying the show:
Love Simon Whitlock... Shame he's got relegated... Hope he's back in the premier league soon, class act! #premierleaguedarts— Alex Hales (@AlexHales1) April 3, 2014
The Australian took the next leg too, but van Gerwen gave a statement of intent with a whopping 164 finish to bring it back to 3-2.
Whitlock then rattled off three frames in a row, including a majestic 170 checkout, but as glory approached, his touch let him down.
He had a chance to seal the victory but missed all three darts, and van Gerwen didn't need asking twice. With confidence drained from Whitlock and the Dutchman in the ascendency, van Gerwen held his nerve to snatch a draw.
Van Gerwen needs to be careful if he wants to retain his place at the top of the tree. With Wright breathing down his neck, the Dutchman's concentration levels must be at the maximum from the get-go.
He showed that he is vulnerable by possibly being complacent against Whitlock, and he almost paid the price.
Taylor remains the dark horse, just chipping away in the background, letting van Gerwen and others take the heat, all the while building a solid platform.
If he can make it into the play-offs, then the tournament is anyone's, and Taylor has been there and done it many times before.