Luke Humphries created history as the first Challenger to win in the Unibet Premier League in Exeter on Thursday as Peter Wright reignited his season and Michael Smith defeated Michael van Gerwen.
World Youth Champion Humphries claimed a 7-5 win over Gary Anderson to celebrate his one-off appearance in this year’s event with a memorable victory on Night Five at Westpoint Exeter.
The Newbury ace had drawn with Gerwyn Price when he played in Exeter last year – ironically after Anderson’s withdrawal with a back problem created the concept which gave him a big-stage opportunity.
This time he held his nerve in a dramatic conclusion to a tight contest as he denied Anderson, who missed six darts in the deciding leg to claim a draw from the match.
Anderson came from two legs down to lead 3-2 early on, and the Scot traded 14-darters with Humphries as he established a 5-4 advantage over the youngster.
Humphries finished 100 with two double tops to level in leg ten, before capitalising on three misses from his opponent to break and move 6-5 up, and landed double one to edge the win in a thrilling ending to the game.
“It feels really good,” said Humphries. “It’s a little bit bittersweet because I didn’t play as well as I wanted to, but it was exciting for the fans to watch and sometimes you have to win the scrappy games.
“The final leg was the most nervous I’ve ever been. I knew I had the chance to be the first Challenger to win, and luckily Gary missed a few doubles there at the end and I got the double one.
“I felt like I had a point to prove tonight and I’m just happy to walk off the winner. I believe I can get into the Premier League one day but it’s going to take time.”
Wright posted the highest average so far in the 2020 season of 110.00 in his brilliant 7-3 win over Nathan Aspinall.
The World Champion bounced back from last week’s 7-1 loss to Gerwyn Price in Dublin in style with a relentless display to claim his second victory of the season in style.
Aspinall played his part, but was never able to pull back level after Wright opened up a 3-1 advantage before pulling clear from 4-3 to complete the win.
“This was a lot better than last week and I got the win, which was what mattered the most,” said Wright. “I’m really happy with the performance but I still feel there’s more to come.
“I knew it was going to be a tough game because of how well Nathan’s been playing. He had a nine-darter against me the last time we played so I was very nervous tonight.
“I still missed too many doubles and need to brush up on that.”
World number one Van Gerwen, meanwhile, suffered his second defeat of the season as Smith produced a memorable performance in a 7-4 victory to claim a third successive win.
Smith had defeated the Dutchman in last weekend’s Belgian Darts Championship, and stormed into a 5-1 lead with finishes of 96 and 134, maintaining an average of 108.
He also won leg seven to secure a minimum of a point, with Van Gerwen taking the next three with legs of 12, 13 and 13 darts only for Smith to finally get over the winning line on double eight.
“It’s a good win and I’m happy,” said Smith. “It’s weird to come off against Michael and be disappointed that I didn’t win by more legs, but I’m glad I got the win.
“His average was better than mine but I was quite strong on my throw and luckily enough I fell over the line. It’s a big thing to beat Michael and it’s hard when you’re throwing at those winning doubles.
“He’s still the best player in the world and it feels good, but he’s not at his best at the moment. I’m in a good place, though, and long may it continue.”
Smith now sits in second place in the league table on leg difference behind Glen Durrant, who claimed his third win of the season with a superb 7-3 win over Gerwyn Price.
Durrant won the opening four legs in a sensational start, before Price took two of the next three to hit back to 5-2.
Durrant, though, finished 46 to secure at least a point and ended Price’s hopes of a fightback by sealing victory with a brilliant 129 checkout, inflicting a first loss of the season on the Welshman.
“This is one of my biggest wins and I’m so happy,” said Durrant. “Gerwyn’s been on a 13-match unbeaten run and nobody gave me a chance, and that was the fire in the belly that I needed.
“There are eight of the best players in the world in that practice room and me, and I’ve got to stop admiring everybody else and realise my own potential.
“My combination finishing right now is as good as anybody’s. I want to play the whole 16 weeks and I’m having the best time in the world at the moment in the Premier League.”
Rob Cross and Daryl Gurney shared the points in the night’s opening tie in Exeter, with the 2019 Premier League finalist hitting back from 3-0 down to move onto four league points, two ahead of the Northern Irish ace.
Gurney – bidding to move away from the foot of the table – took the first three legs without reply in a strong start, finishing 88 and 74 along the way.
Cross won the next four, with Gurney then moving 5-4 up only to see the Hastings thrower secure at least a point at 6-5, but it was the Northern Irishman who took the deciding leg on double ten to snatch a draw.
“I’m a little bit disappointed with the draw and it wasn’t what I wanted, but I’ll take it,” admitted Cross. “You can’t give people a 3-0 lead and the slow starts have been the story of my season so far.
“I got back into the game well. It’s a work in progress because I’ve made changes to my life and maybe I’m a bit less confident than I should be, but if I can get a few results that will change.
“I’m enjoying it and I love the Premier League. I’m playing well in practice and I want to start taking it up on stage now.”
Following this weekend’s Ladbrokes UK Open, the Unibet Premier League season will resume on Thursday March 12 at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool, where St Helens’ Stephen Bunting steps in as a Challenger against Rob Cross.
The ties in Liverpool will also see Durrant take on Gurney, Smith meet World Champion Wright, Van Gerwen take on Price and Anderson play Aspinall. For tickets, visit mandsbankarena.com.
2020 Unibet Premier League
Thursday March 5, Westpoint Exeter
- Rob Cross 6-6 Daryl Gurney
- Gerwyn Price 3-7 Glen Durrant
- Nathan Aspinall 3-7 Peter Wright
- Gary Anderson 5-7 Luke Humphries
- Michael Smith 7-4 Michael van Gerwen