Stephen Bunting is taking inspiration from his beloved Liverpool as he sets his sights on Mr Vegas Grand Slam of Darts success in Wolverhampton.
Bunting, who will take on world number seven Danny Noppert for a place in the Grand Slam quarter-finals on Thursday, sealed his place in the knockout stages with a terrific 5-3 victory against Peter Wright.
The 38-year-old followed up a sequence of 103, 101 and 107 checkouts with legs of 13 and 14 darts to triumph in the pair’s Group E shootout, which condemned Wright to his third group stage exit in four years.
“When you’re playing on stage against a legend like Peter it’s always difficult,” reflected Bunting, who averaged 99.38 to advance to the last 16 for the fourth time in five Grand Slam appearances.
“Everyone is questioning Peter’s form at the minute, but he’s still one of the best players in the world in my eyes.
“I held it together well and I’m so happy to be through to the next round. I’ve put a lot of hard work in behind the scenes, so this is a special moment.”
Bunting has produced some of the best darts of his career over recent months, which he attributes to a change of equipment, having increased the weight of his darts from 12 to 18 grams.
The former Lakeside Champion has crashed in a host of ton-plus averages since this alteration, averaging 111 against Martin Schindler to confirm his Grand Slam spot in the recent Tour Card Holder Qualifier.
“I compare myself to Liverpool [football club]," continued Bunting, who is hoping to replicate the success enjoyed by Jurgen Klopp’s side.
"Liverpool are phase 2.0 now with the new midfield; it’s all refreshed and that’s the way I feel.
“I think the first part of my career in the PDC I was good, but I was never brilliant, and now I feel like I can make myself brilliant.
“I’m dangerous, and if I can keep playing the way I’m playing at the minute, then I believe I can win titles, but I’ve got to keep doing it.
“It’s one thing talking about great averages, but I’m not winning tournaments, so it’s about time I turn those averages into wins, and I’m trying the best I possibly can to make that happen.
“I’m really enjoying the ride to be honest, and I believe that I can go all the way.”
Bunting’s next assignment pits him against former UK Open champion Noppert, who completed a clean sweep in Group F with wins over Haruki Muramatsu, Andrew Gilding and Brendan Dolan.
Three-time champion Michael van Gerwen will headline Thursday’s action, as the Dutch superstar takes on Australian number one Damon Heta, who edged out Beau Greaves in a thrilling Group H decider on Tuesday.
World Matchplay winner Nathan Aspinall – a runner-up in last year’s Grand Slam - will continue his title challenge against 2018 World Champion Rob Cross in another blockbuster last 16 battle.
Elsewhere, UK Open champion Gilding will lock horns with Stowe Buntz in the evening’s opener, as the American newcomer bids to continue his dream Grand Slam of Darts debut.
2023 Mr Vegas Grand Slam of Darts
Thursday November 16 (1900-2300 GMT)
Second Round x4
Stowe Buntz v Andrew Gilding
Danny Noppert v Stephen Bunting
Michael van Gerwen v Damon Heta
Nathan Aspinall v Rob Cross
Best of 19 legs