BRILLIANT BUNTING LAYS DOWN A MARKER, AS EVANS DISPATCHES ASPINALL
Stephen Bunting produced the performance of the Paddy Power World Darts Championship so far to book his place in round three at Alexandra Palace, as Ricky Evans dispatched sixth seed Nathan Aspinall in sensational style on Saturday.
The final day of action before the Christmas break saw eight second round matches take place in the capital, with Bunting and Evans stealing the headlines on Day Nine of the sport's showpiece event.
Bunting - a semi-finalist in 2021 - averaged 107.28 to complete a straight-sets demolition of Ryan Joyce, crashing in five maximums and pinning 47 per cent of his attempts at double to triumph.
The 38-year-old received a rousing reception from the Alexandra Palace crowd, and he repaid that support with a blistering opening set display, drawing first blood with an astronomical 115.62 average.
Bunting maintained his rampant run to kick off set two with an 11-darter, and after doubling his lead in a second-set decider, he fired in legs of 12, 13 and 13 darts to cap off a statement performance.
"I'm incredibly proud of my performance," said Bunting, who is refusing to get carried away ahead of his showdown against comeback king Florian Hempel.
"I felt really emotional tonight. The crowd was on my side and I didn't want to disappoint them, so I'm over the moon with that result.
"To have the highest average going into Christmas is fantastic, but it doesn't win you the title, so I know the hard work starts now and I'll be raring to go after the break."
Meanwhile, Evans caused one of the biggest upsets of the second round with a comprehensive win against World Matchplay champion Aspinall, relinquishing just two legs on his way to victory.
Following two roof-raising walk-ons, Evans drew first blood in a quick-fire opening set, before following up an 11-dart hold with a 104 checkout on tops to double his lead.
Aspinall - a two-time World Championship semi-finalist - had no answer to Evans' relentless brilliance, and the Kettering ace cashed in to celebrate one of the biggest wins of his career.
"Nathan is one of the best dart players in the world, and I've just done a job on him there," declared Evans, who averaged 99.38 to prevail.
"I'm so so happy. If I can play my darts, I will do some damage, and I showed what I can do there."
"There is a good dart player in there; eventually it will come out, and now I get to enjoy my Christmas dinner!"
Evans will now play Daryl Gurney for a place in the last 16, after the Northern Irishman defied a stirring fightback from Steve Beaton to prevail in a high-quality affair.
Gurney relinquished a solitary leg on his way to establishing a two-set cushion, although Beaton hit back with an 84 skin-saver in set three, having survived a match dart in the previous visit.
The 59-year-old continued his resurgence to lead 2-1 in the fourth, only for Gurney to follow up a majestic 132 checkout with a match-winning 136 outshot to cap off a wonderful display.
"Steve is a legend of the game. He's someone I look up to," reflected Gurney, a two-time quarter-finalist at Alexandra Palace.
"He is still a class act. He's almost played in more World Championships than I've been alive to see, but if he feels the time is right [to walk away], fair play to him.
"I'm really glad to get over the finishing line. I'm playing really well, but if you don't take your chances, you can be destroyed by anyone."
On a day which saw four seeds crash out in the capital, Berry van Peer delivered a finishing masterclass to dump out former World Youth Champion Josh Rock.
Van Peer - making his debut in the sport's flagship event - pinned 11 of his 18 attempts at double in a clinical display, before fending off a late rally from Rock, who landed 101, 112 and 82 finishes in set three.
Ryan Searle ended Asian hopes at this year's World Championship, battling past Japan's Tomoya Goto to set up a tussle against former Masters champion Joe Cullen for a place in the fourth round.
Searle won six of the opening eight legs to race into a 2-0 lead, and despite Goto halving the deficit with a superb 12-darter, the Somerset star dominated set four - wrapping up victory with a classy 102 combination.
Earlier in the day, ninth seed Jonny Clayton survived a scare to see off a profligate Steve Lennon, in a contest dominated by woes on the outer ring.
Clayton - a quarter-finalist 12 months ago - was nowhere near his vintage best, but he punished 34 missed darts at double from the Irishman to book a third round clash against Poland's Krzysztof Ratajski.
Ricardo Pietreczko produced a superb performance to continue his eye-catching run at Ally Pally, averaging 99 to overcome 2021/22 quarter-finalist Callan Rydz in a five-set thriller.
The 29-year-old produced a trio of ton-plus checkouts to deny the Bedlington thrower, converting consecutive 129 and 112 finishes in the closing stages to become the fourth German player to progress to the last 32.
Elsewhere, Richard Veenstra demolished Kim Huybrechts in nine straight legs to reach round three, averaging 99.46 to set up an all-Dutch showdown against three-time winner Michael van Gerwen.
Following a three-day Christmas break, the third and fourth rounds will be held from December 27-30, with the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final taking place from January 1-3.
Statistics - Second Round
Statistics - Second Round