STEPHEN BUNTING reached the quarter-finals of the Ladbrokes Players Championship Finals for the first time with a magnificent 10-9 victory over Peter Wright on Saturday as the battle for the title intensified in Minehead.
The second day of the £460,000 event saw eight players win through the final day of action with wins in Saturday's second and third rounds at the Butlin's Minehead Resort in Somerset, with Bunting's gutsy display stealing the headlines.
Bunting fought off a valiant comeback from Latvia's Madars Razma in round two, before a clinical display of finishing under intense pressure saw the St Helens thrower overturn his 10-0 loss to Wright at the 2015 UK Open.
"I'm so happy to win against one of the best players in the world who has a great record against me," said Bunting, who will now play Danny Noppert in Sunday afternoon's quarter-final.
"I felt so nervous this afternoon but tonight I felt good and I held my nerve even though I was a bit shaky at times.
"I believe I'm playing the best darts I've ever played in my life at the moment.
"For the last couple of years I felt like I was just here to make the numbers up but this year I'm here to win."
Noppert continued his dream debut thanks to convincing victories over Mervyn King and Krzysztof Ratajski
The Dutchman, who is enjoying a successful first year on the PDC circuit, survived a match dart from former runner-up King before winning the 11-leg thriller.
He then followed up that win with a 10-4 triumph over Ratajski, who had claimed the impressive scalps of Gerwyn Price and Adrian Lewis in the opening two rounds.
Reigning champion Michael van Gerwen was at his relentless best, posting averages of 106 and 104.06 in his wins over Keegan Brown and Stephen Burton to remain on course for a fifth title in six years.
The world number one stormed past Brown in a 6-1 victory, winning the opening five legs without Brown attempting a dart at a double, before condemning Burton to a 10-4 defeat in his big-stage debut.
"I can't complain with my form so far, my scoring power is there and I played well," said Van Gerwen, who will now meet Steve Lennon.
"I feel confident and I think my form is strong, and I hope I can continue this tomorrow. I want to win this title again but I have to make sure I focus on each game."
Emerging Irish thrower Lennon battled back from 5-0 down to defeat Germany debutant Gabriel Clemens 10-7 and book his place in the quarter-finals for the first time.
Dutch Darts Masters runner-up Lennon had previously survived a match dart before edging past Cristo Reyes 6-5, and will now celebrate his 25th birthday by taking on the world number one on the big stage on Sunday afternoon.
Former champion Gary Anderson continued his charge towards a fifth televised title of 2018 with wins over Simon Whitlock and Joe Cullen, averaging over 100 in both matches.
The World Matchplay and UK Open champion landed a 160 checkout and five 180s in a dominant 6-1 second round defeat of Australian Whitlock before taking eight straight legs in a 10-2 defeat of Joe Cullen, meaning that the Scot has dropped just five legs in three games.
"I got in front and Joe started to waver a little, and I made the most of it," said Anderson, who will now face Jonny Clayton.
"There's no pressure on me and I'm turning up to tournaments not knowing what to expect, and it's working for me."
Last year's runner-up Clayton made the final day of action for a second successive year thanks to wins over Michael Smith and Ricky Evans.
Welsh number two Clayton came out on top of a dramatic 11-leg battle with Smith in round two, and backed it up with a 10-5 triumph over Evans.
Chris Dobey reached his second televised quarter-final thanks to victories over world number nine James Wade and world number 11 Dave Chisnall.
Dobey survived four missed match darts from Wade to claim a dramatic 10-9 triumph, having earlier defeated Chisnall 6-3 by winning five of the last six legs.
"It's probably one of the best wins of my career, I showed a lot of bottle in the latter stages and composed myself better than I have in the past," said Dobey, who will now take on Daryl Gurney.
"I dug in and felt more and more comfortable later in the game, and I'm so happy to get over the winning line."
A sparkling display from world number five Gurney saw him hit nine 180s and a 102.07 average as he got the better of his World Cup partner for Northern Ireland, Brendan Dolan, 10-6.
Earlier in the day former semi-finalist Gurney capitalised on two missed match darts from Ryan Searle to win a dramatic decider to their 11-leg contest.
Finals Day live on ITV4 will see all the action take place on the Main Stage, with four quarter-finals in the afternoon, followed by the semi-finals and the final in the evening, while the PDC Unicorn World Youth Championship Final will also take place between Martin Schindler and Dimitri Van den Bergh.
2018 Ladbrokes Players Championship Finals
Schedule of Play
Saturday November 24
Daryl Gurney 6-5 Ryan Searle
James Wade 6-4 Nathan Aspinall
Chris Dobey 6-3 Dave Chisnall
Steve Lennon 6-5 Cristo Reyes
Gary Anderson 6-1 Simon Whitlock
Michael van Gerwen 6-1 Keegan Brown
Peter Wright 6-2 Max Hopp
Krzysztof Ratajski 6-3 Adrian Lewis
Stephen Bunting 6-4 Madars Razma
Gabriel Clemens 6-5 James Wilson
Ricky Evans 6-2 Jeffrey de Zwaan
Stephen Burton 6-3 Darren Webster
Brendan Dolan 6-3 Ian White
Danny Noppert 6-5 Mervyn King
Jonny Clayton 6-5 Michael Smith
Joe Cullen 6-4 Steve Beaton
Chris Dobey 10-9 James Wade
Gary Anderson 10-2 Joe Cullen
Michael van Gerwen 10-4 Stephen Burton
Stephen Bunting 10-9 Peter Wright
Steve Lennon 10-7 Gabriel Clemens
Daryl Gurney 10-6 Brendan Dolan
Jonny Clayton 10-5 Ricky Evans
Danny Noppert 10-4 Krzysztof Ratajski
Sunday November 25
Daryl Gurney v Chris Dobey
Danny Noppert v Stephen Bunting
Gary Anderson v Jonny Clayton
Steve Lennon v Michael van Gerwen
Evening Session (1900 GMT)
Gurney/Dobey v Noppert/Bunting
Anderson/Clayton v Lennon/Van Gerwen
Plus PDC Unicorn World Youth Championship Final:
Martin Schindler v Dimitri Van den Bergh
Best of 11 legs. To be played between semi-finals and final of Players Championship Finals.