KIM HUYBRECHTS and Peter Wright were eliminated from the Betway Premier League on a dramatic Judgement Night in Manchester, as reigning champion Raymond van Barneveld and Adrian Lewis survived to compete in the second half of the season.
Thursday's ninth league night of the tournament completed the opening set of round-robin fixtures, after which the bottom two players were knocked out.
Five of the ten stars went into Judgement Night facing the prospect of elimination, with Kim Huybrechts needing to take a victory to keep alive his hopes.
However, the Belgian missed three match darts as he drew with Stephen Bunting, a result which saw Huybrechts agonisingly drop out of the event as the St Helens ace survived.
Adrian Lewis then defeated Peter Wright 7-4 as he sealed his status in the tournament, before van Barneveld's draw with Gary Anderson saw Wright eliminated on leg difference.
Reigning champion van Barneveld produced a fine display to hold off a 108 average from World Champion Anderson as they shared the points in a high-quality contest which also featured 12 maximums.
Anderson shared the opening six legs as he posted legs of 13, 12 and 12 darts before van Barneveld took out 122 for a break of throw and then landed double nine to move 5-3 up.
The Dutchman replied to a 71 finish from Anderson with a 91 checkout to secure the draw which preserved his Premier League status, but the Scot hit back to win the final two legs and claim a point.
"I'm happy with the draw," said van Barneveld. "In the last three games I had the top three players in the world - Phil Taylor, Michael van Gerwen and Gary Anderson - but I got the three points that I needed in the end.
"There was a lot of pressure because we were the last game on and Adrian did what he had to do earlier. I knew what I had to do, get a draw at least, and it's in your mind.
"Gary played so well but the 122 was crucial and I thought I was going to win after that, but I missed one or two doubles and he deserved the draw.
"I didn't want to lose tonight and go out after being the winner last year, but I'm happy to be in the next phase and I can't wait to play the remaining games."
Anderson's point maintains his status in the league's top three, and he said: "I thought I played alright and Raymond had to work for it tonight.
"I didn't know what the situation was - I thought Raymond needed to win - because I need points for myself and to keep up with Michael van Gerwen because I want to finish in the top four."
Earlier, Lewis had ensured his survival and dealt a killer blow to Wright's hopes with a 7-4 win from their clash.
The two-time World Champion shared the opening six legs - taking out a showpiece 100 with two double tops in leg three - before finding an extra gear in the second half of the match.
He took out 106 and then secured the first break of throw by finishing 88, and double top moved him 6-3 up to secure a minimum of a draw.
Wright took out a stunning 170 finish to bring the 9,000-strong Manchester crowd to its feet, but the fightback was short-lived when he missed double 16 in the next leg, allowing Lewis to take out tops for a huge win.
"I treated it like a first round, knockout match and I got the job done so I'm over the moon," said Lewis. "When Peter took out the 170 I thought it was going to sum up my league, but I managed to get the win.
"My scoring was a bit hit and miss but my finishing - which has let me down in recent weeks - has come together tonight. I've been putting in six hours a day practising on my finishing and it showed.
"If I can get a bit of momentum now over the next few weeks I want to push towards the top four."
Belgian star Huybrechts came agonisingly close to extending his own debut Premier League season before he was eliminated by a draw against Bunting in another dramatic contest.
Huybrechts had to win the clash - and hope that Lewis and van Barneveld lost - if he was to avoid the axe and made a brilliant start by winning the opening three legs and taking a 4-1 lead.
Bunting pulled back to trail just 5-4 before Huybrechts edged away on double eight - but he crucially missed one match dart, at the bull, in leg 11 before seeing two darts at doubles go begging in the deciding leg as the St Helens man ended his hopes.
"Kim's a good friend and I feel sorry for him that he's going out because he's done well in the Premier League on his debut this season," said Bunting. "I knew before the game that I only needed two legs but I was going for the win.
"At the start of the game Kim put the pressure on me and it was always going to be difficult after going 3-0 down. This is my first Premier League and this was something new for me, and I was really nervous, so I'm so happy.
"The aim tonight was to stay in but also not to lose so this point could be massive going into the rest of the season."
In the night's opening game, league leader Michael van Gerwen extended his unbeaten run to nine matches this season with a 7-4 defeat of James Wade.
Both players averaged just over 100 in the game, but van Gerwen's finishing proved the difference as he took the points.
Wade hit back from 3-0 down to close the gap to 4-3 at one stage, finishing 132 on the bull along the way, but the Dutchman took three of the final four legs to seal victory.
"I wasn't at my best but I got the win, which was the most important thing," said van Gerwen. "When you're feeling comfortable, even 80 or 90 percent of what you can do might be enough and I did enough to win.
"I hit doubles at the right times and I think I deserved to win the game tonight. I'm enjoying the season so far and I want to stay at the top."
Dave Chisnall strengthened his place inside the top four with a fine comeback from 3-0 and 4-2 down to defeat Phil Taylor 7-4, punishing the 16-time World Champion for uncharacteristically missing 15 darts at a double during the contest.
Taylor took the first three legs under little pressure from Chisnall, who took out 112, on the bull, and 96 to hit back to 3-2.
Double two moved Taylor 4-2 up, but missed doubles let Chisnall in on double 16 before he levelled on double five, and the 2014 Grand Slam runner-up then landed two 11-darters as he took the next three legs to sweep to victory.
"I started very slowly but pulled it out at the end," said Chisnall. "Phil missed a few doubles and I capitalised on it and fortunately I got the win.
"My scoring wasn't brilliant but I finished well. I've not beaten Phil for a while and even though he wasn't at his best I'll take the win and I'm happy.
"To be up there in the top four even though I've not been at my best is not bad - people were tipping me to be eliminated so I've proved them wrong so far!"
The Betway Premier League will continue next Thursday in Sheffield as the players begin the second phase of the season by taking part in the first of six further league nights before May's Play-Offs.
Tickets can still be purchased from the Motorpoint Arena Box Office by calling 0114 256 5656 or online via www.motorpointarenasheffield.co.uk.
The fixtures for the remaining league nights will be confirmed atwww.pdc.tv in due course.
Betway Premier League
Judgement Night, Thursday April 2
The Manchester Arena
Michael van Gerwen 7-4 James Wade
Phil Taylor 4-7 Dave Chisnall
Stephen Bunting 6-6 Kim Huybrechts
Adrian Lewis 7-4 Peter Wright
Gary Anderson 6-6 Raymond van Barneveld
Michael van Gerwen v James Wade
1-0 - van Gerwen takes out 65 on tops to take the opening leg.
2-0 - The Dutchman breaks by finishing tops for a 14-darter.
3-0 - van Gerwen lands his first 180 of the game before posting double ten for a 13-darter to move three legs clear.
3-1 - van Gerwen opens with a maximum, but Wade lands a 180 of his own to set up a 64 finish, as double top sees him hit back.
4-1 - Double 18 sees the league leader regain his three-leg lead.
4-2 - Wade wins his second leg in superb style by finishing 303 in six darts, scoring 171 before taking out 132 on the bull.
4-3 - Wade breaks by finishing 84 on double 12 to reduce the gap to one leg.
5-3 - van Gerwen breaks back with a 14-darter, opening with a maximum before landing double eight.
6-3 - Tops sees van Gerwen claim a minimum of a point to extend his unbeaten record.
6-4 - Double ten sees Wade hit back.
7-4 - Wade misses double seven to finish 86 to continue his challenge, and van Gerwen lands double ten to seal victory.
Phil Taylor v Dave Chisnall
1-0 - Double 16 gives Taylor the opening leg.
2-0 - Taylor initially misses two doubles for the leg, but returns to eventually land double one to break throw.
3-0 - Chisnall's below-par start continues as Taylor lands double eight to win a third straight leg.
3-1 - Chisnall gets off the mark by finishing 112 on the bullseye.
3-2 - Taylor is punished for missed doubles as Chisnall takes out 96 in two darts to break throw and cut the gap to one leg.
4-2 - Taylor lands double two to break back, moving two legs ahead once more.
4-3 - Chisnall misses double 16 - but Taylor is unable to land double top, ten or five as he chases his finish around the board, allowing his rival back in on double 16 for a 14-darter to break.
4-4 - Chisnall lands his first 180 of the game, and finishes double five to level the game.
4-5 - Chisnall moves ahead with a superb 11-darter, scoring another 180 before finishing 47 on double 16.
4-6 - Taylor misses the bull to finish 161, and Chisnall lands double five to secure at least a draw from the game - winning a fourth successive leg.
4-7 - Chisnall opens with a 180 and leaves 55 after nine darts before finishing double ten to claim the win with another 11-dart leg.
Stephen Bunting v Kim Huybrechts
0-1 - Bunting misses two darts at double 16, and Huybrechts steps in to break throw immediately on double six.
0-2 - Bunting lands a 180, but Huybrechts finishes 48 to double his lead.
0-3 - Huybrechts' superb start continues as he scores 171 before finishing 68 on double 18 to punish another miss at double 16 from the St Helens ace.
1-3 - Bunting finishes double 12 to win his first leg.
1-4 - Huybrechts misses the bull to finish 164, but Bunting is unable to land tops as the Belgian returns on double eight.
2-4 - Bunting posts double eight to win his second leg of the game - ensuring that he cannot be eliminated on the night.
3-4 - Bunting lands his second maximum before punishing a missed bullseye from Huybrechts to post double five.
3-5 - Huybrechts regains his cushion by finishing double eight.
4-5 - Huybrechts fires in a 171 score to leave 36 - but three misses at double 18 allow Bunting in on tops to prevent a break in a potentially key leg for the Belgian's hopes of claiming a win.
4-6 - Double 16 sees Huybrechts secure at least a draw - but he needs the victory to keep alive his hopes of avoiding elimination.
5-6 - Bunting misses the bull for a 161 finish, only for Huybrechts to then miss the bull to finish 121 for victory - allowing his rival in on double eight.
6-6 - Bunting opens the deciding leg with two 180s to set up a possible nine-darter, and though he misses a seventh treble 20 he leaves 16 after nine darts - but misses three darts at doubles, only for Huybrechts to miss double 14 and seven to take the win, with Bunting returning to take out double two with his third dart as he claims a draw and knocks out the Belgian.
Stephen Bunting is safe, Kim Huybrechts is eliminated.
Adrian Lewis v Peter Wright
1-0 - Wright misses double 15 to finish 150, and Lewis lands tops to claim the opening leg.
1-1 - Lewis hits a 174 score to leave 98, but Wright finishes 96 on double 18 to level.
2-1 - Lewis takes out 100 with a showpiece two double tops to edge back in front.
2-2 - Double nine sees Wright hit back.
3-2 - Lewis hits the game's first 180 before taking out 80 to move back ahead.
3-3 - Wright opens with a 180 but the leg ends dramatically, with both players missing the bull before Lewis misses two further doubles, allowing Wright in on double 16 to avoid a break of throw.
4-3 - Lewis takes out 106 as he edges himself into the lead.
5-3 - Lewis breaks for the first time by taking out 88 on double seven.
6-3 - Lewis opens with a 180 before finishing tops to ensure a minimum of a draw - but a win would secure safety and leave Wright in the elimination battle.
6-4 - Lewis sets up 40 to take victory - only to watch Wright take out a 170 checkout to keep the game alive in stunning fashion!
7-4 - Wright opens with a 180, but misses one dart at double 16 to send the game into a decider to allow Lewis back in on tops for a win which secures his Betway Premier League survival.
Adrian Lewis is safe, Peter Wright is eliminated if Raymond van Barneveld draws with, or defeats, Gary Anderson.
Gary Anderson v Raymond van Barneveld
1-0 - Anderson makes a brilliant start, landing two 180s in a 13-darter to take the opening leg on dobule 18.
1-1 - van Barneveld lands a 180 of his own and levels on double eight.
2-1 - The pair trade maximums before Anderson finishes 85 on double five for a 12-darter.
2-2 - Double ten helps the reigning champion to level.
3-2 - Once again the duo swap 180s before Anderson takes out 81 on double 13 for another 12-darter.
3-3 - van Barneveld levels once again, this time landing double eight.
3-4 - The Dutch star takes out 122 on double seven as he claims the game's first break of throw to move ahead.
3-5 - The duo swap maximums for a third time in the game, before van Barneveld finishes double nine to move two legs clear - and one leg away from safety.
4-5 - Anderson finishes 71 on double top to hit back.
4-6 - van Barneveld takes out 91 on tops to claim the draw which secures his status and eliminates Peter Wright!
5-6 - Anderson opens with two 180s, and though he is unable to complete a nine-dart finish he returns on double ten to send the game into a decider.
6-6 - van Barneveld opens the final leg with 180 and 140 but is unable to close out the win as Anderson takes out double 19 for a draw.
Raymond van Barneveld's draw means that Peter Wright is eliminated.