Andy Hamilton and James Wade snatched the final two places in the McCoy's Premier League Darts Play-Offs on a dramatic final league night at the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle, as World Champion Adrian Lewis and Raymond van Barneveld crashed out of the tournament.
Hamilton's 8-1 win over Kevin Painter in their decisive clash saw the Premier League newcomer earn a top-four place in his debut season at the expense of Stoke rival Lewis, who lost 8-6 to Simon Whitlock in Newcastle.
Those results meant that Whitlock - who came from 4-1 down to take victory - finishes second in the table and now takes on Hamilton in the semi-finals.
Hamilton had found himself bottom of the table after six weeks, but has lost just once in eight games since since - when he missed a chance to draw with Taylor - in claiming a place at The O2.
Hamilton's third place was secured when Wade hit a 13-darter in the deciding leg of his clash with van Barneveld in the night's other decisive game.
The Dutchman had to win to jump above Wade and into the semis, and led 4-2 before Wade took four successive legs to move in front.
Van Barneveld hit back with a 161 finish in taking a 7-6 lead, but a 13-darter from Wade in the decider saw him dramatically edge into the top four, and he now plays league leader Phil Taylor in the other semi-final next Thursday.
Taylor ended the league season eight points clear at the top of the table after drawing with reigning champion Gary Anderson in the night's other game, with the Scot finishing with a point but ending the defence of his title at the foot of the table.
The Play-Offs at The O2 in London next Thursday will be accompanied by the final of the PDC Unicorn World Youth Championship between Dutchman Michael van Gerwen and Norfolk's James Hubbard, as they battle for the title previously held by Arron Monk.
PDC Unicorn World Youth Championship Final.
Simon Whitlock 8:6 Adrian Lewis
Simon Whitlock knocked Adrian Lewis out of the McCoy's Premier League Darts with a thrilling comeback from 5-2 down to end the World Champion's hopes of claiming a Play-Off place.
Lewis had to take victory in the pair's last league game if he was to keep alive his hopes of improving on last year's run to the final - but saw his hopes crushed by the Australian.
Whitlock is now assured of finishing in second place after winning half of his 14 league games, as he prepares to challenge for the £150,000 title at The O2 in London next week.
"I was already in the semi-finals but I wanted to win tonight to make sure that I avoided Phil Taylor in the semi-finals, so I'm over the moon to have done that," said Whitlock.
"Adrian was fantastic early on but I hung in there and when I was 5-2 down it took a lot of bottle to come back from there. I dug deep and the darts went in for me.
The McCoy's Premier League this year has been the hardest ever, so I'm delighted to have finished second but I've got two steps left now; to reach the final and then go on and win it."
The pair traded 180s in sharing the opening two legs, with Lewis hitting tops for a 13-darter before Whitlock finished 92 on the same double to level before the World Champion took command.
Lewis punished a missed double 16 from Whitlock to win the third on tops, before finishing 88 on the bull and 38 on double eight to move 4-1 up.
Whitlock fired in a 130 checkout, hitting the bull himself, to win the sixth but Lewis posted a 12-darter to move three legs clear again at 5-2.
Lewis also opened the eighth leg with five successive treble 20s, hitting a 180 and 123, only to see Whitlock reply with a maximum before taking out 77 for a 14-darter.
The Australian then punished a miss at tops from Lewis by landing double eight before levelling by following a 180 in the next with a nervy double one checkout.
Lewis hit a 180 and tops to regain the lead at 6-5, with Whitlock landing a maximum and double eight to square the contest.
Lewis left himself 69 in the 13th leg as he sought to seal at least a draw, but was dramatically denied a chance as Whitlock powered in a 140 checkout to move 7-6 up and lead for the first time, before sealing victory on double 16 to end the Stoke star's Play-Off ambitions.
Andy Hamilton 8:1 Kevin Painter
Andy Hamilton dramatically booked a McCoy's Premier League Darts semi-final place, defeating Play-Off rival Kevin Painter 8-1 in their decisive contest.
The pair went into the final league game of their debut Premier League Darts seasons knowing that victory would push them into next week's Play-Offs - and it was the World Championship finalist who triumphed with a fine display.
Hamilton hit four 180s and finished 42 percent of his chances at a double to pounce, completing a remarkable fightback from finding himself bottom of the table halfway through the season.
Painter never recovered from missing doubles in the opening two legs as Hamilton - who kicked off the match with a 180 - was allowed back to land double ten to win the first leg before he took out 78 in two darts for the second.
Hamilton posted another 180 and tops to take the third before repeating his 78 checkout to break in the fourth to lead 4-0.
A fine 111 finish from Painter got him off the mark in the fifth, but two misses at double eight in the next allowed Hamilton back to post double ten and regain his cushion at 5-1.
Painter hit a 180 in the seventh but could only watch as Hamilton posted double 16, and a missed bull for a 121 checkout in the next allowed the Stoke ace to follow an earlier maximum by posting tops.
Hamilton gave Painter a glimmer of a fightback in the next, missing tops for a 118 finish for the match, but the Daventry thrower was unable to land the bull again, and his rival landed double ten to seal his semi-final place.
"I'm absolutely delighted to have qualified and I feel privileged to be in the top four out of the eight best players in the world," said Hamilton.
"Kevin wanted to win this as much as I did, and nobody probably thought that either of us could have reached the semi-finals at the start of the season, so it's great that I have done it - and I feel like I've done it for both of us.
Getting a good start was important again, and I stayed strong and my finishing was pretty good - it's put me into the last four and that's all I'm worried about.
It's been an amazing second half to the season, I'm grinding results out and taking my chances. Whatever happens now is a bonus for me but I'll keep fighting next week against Simon."
Raymond van Barneveld 7:7 James Wade
James Wade claimed the final place in the McCoy's Premier League Darts Play-Offs as he snatched a draw with Raymond van Barneveld at Newcastle's Metro Radio Arena - denying the Dutchman a semi-final spot.
Van Barneveld had to win the contest to finish in the top four ahead of the 2009 champion, and led 4-2 at one stage before Wade took a 6-4 lead.
The Dutchman moved 7-6 up to move to the brink of a
famous victory, but Wade produced a superb deciding leg, hitting a 180 in a 13-darter as he secured a fourth-placed finish to set up a semi-final with Phil Taylor at The O2 in London.
Van Barneveld hit a 180 and double 16 to win the opening leg before Wade levelled with a 95 checkout - but misses in the next two legs cost the left-hander as his opponent hit double ten and double 16 to move 3-1 up.
Tops in the fifth saw Wade hit back, but he missed two darts to level in the next as van Barneveld posted a 97 checkout in two darts for a 4-2 lead.
Wade hit a 180 in a 14-darter to break in leg seven, before hitting double eight to level, double 12 to lead and taking out 80 on double ten to move 6-4 up with a fourth successive leg and move to the brink of a semi-final spot.
He would be made to wait, as van Barneveld replied strongly, hitting a 180 and a 161 checkout to take the 11th leg, an 80 finish on the bull to evel and double 16 to move 7-6 up after Wade missed three darts to take a point.
Van Barneveld knew that he must win the decider to take victory and a semi-final place, but Wade - with the advantage of throw - powered in a 180 and a 140 to leave 121 after nine darts, and set up the double top which he landed to secure a Play-Off berth.
"It was a hard game and Raymond played well, so there's a massive sense of satisfaction to be in the Play-Offs again," said Wade.
"I've scraped through with the right results and the wrong times for other people, and Simon Whitlock helped me out tonight by beating Adrian.
I know what I've got to do next week in the Play-Offs - to win two games! I've done it before and I'm just glad to be there, because a couple of weeks ago it was looking bad for me and seven weeks ago it was looking even worse!
I'm looking forward to playing Phil in the semi-finals. He seems to do something special against me every time we play so I know the size of the task, but I'm being positive about it."
Gary Anderson 7:7 Phil Taylor
Titelverteidiger Gary Anderson ended the defence of his title on a high with a draw against Phil Taylor at Newcastle's Metro Radio Arena.
Anderson has struggled for form and confidence this season as well as suffering the loss of his father in March, but saw his season finish with a flourish as he hit a 161 checkout amongst the draw with Taylor.
The stalemate means that Taylor finishes the league season eight points clear at the top of the table, as he now progresses to The O2 in London next week to face James Wade in the semi-finals as he bids to take the trophy back from the grasp of Anderson.
"I think it was a great game for the fans to watch, and I'm glad to see Gary playing well again," said Taylor. "Gary relaxed and played like he can play, and after being through a lot this year it's nice for him.
Hopefully next week I can take the trophy and rub his name off it now! I know it's going to be tough in the semis against James and I'd love to be in the final after that."
"I wanted to get a win and hit a massive average but it wasn't to be - it was a bit like a sparring session ahead of the Play-Offs," admitted Taylor. "The other guys were all on edge tonight and there was a lot of pressure, but we can all focus on the semis now.
I know I'm in for a tough game and I'll be getting ready for James. When I beat him in the final, I won 10-8 and hit two nine-darters because he's such a good player that I know what he'll do."
After the pair shared the first two legs, Anderson finished double ten to win the third before posting a superb 161 checkout to break throw and lead 3-1.
Taylor finished double 16 to break back in leg five, and although Anderson posted a 180 in the next he was unable to finish 139, and the world number one posted tops to square the game.
Anderson defied a 180 from Taylor by finishing 67 on tops in the seven, and then took full advantage of four misses to hit double ten and break again for a 5-3 cushion.
Finishes of double four and double two from Taylor saw him level, but he missed a chance to lead for the first time when he was unable to land a tricky bullseye in leg 11, with Anderson finishing 70 on tops for a 6-5 cushion.
Anderson missed the bull and two darts at tops to break in the next as Taylor posted double five to square the game again, before a superb 11-darter from the Scot - featuring scores of 140, 180, 99 and an 82 finish of treble 14, double top - saw him secure at least a draw at 7-6 up.
However, he would be denied the chance to take a victory which would have moved him off the foot of the table when Taylor finished 68 on double 16 to share the points with a draw.
Anderson admitted: "It was a nice way to finish and we both enjoyed that game. I could have pinched a win at the end but it's nice to end the season playing half-decent.
"It's good to be back in some form after what's happened. I've been struggling but I'm trying to get on with things and my game's getting better slowly.
"I'm proud that I've been the Premier League champion and hopefully I'll be back next year. I've got a couple of weeks off now and I'll prepare for the UK Open, and it would be great to have a good run there."