FInally, we have a 2019 PDC major winner on the Premier League Darts schedule.
Nathan Aspinall, the UK Open champion, is the ‘contender’ in Nottingham. So far the Gary Anderson stand-ins have performed admirably on their respective Premier League Darts debuts, notching three draws between them. Even Steve Lennon and Glen Durrant, who lost, went down fighting. The Asp, now in the PDC top 16, is in fact the top-ranked contender. He could do some real damage at the Motorpoint Arena.
His opponent is a beleaguered Michael Smith, who is being kept off the bottom of the table by the fact Raymond van Barneveld is absolute cannon fodder. Numbers-wise, Smith is doing alright – a 97 average across five weeks and a checkout rate of about 43% is at least average, if not solid. But a draw and two 7-5 defeats tell the story of a man who is not grasping the chances of victory that come his way. Aspinall will be highly fancied. Now’s the time for the Bully Boy to find a mean streak.
Wade on a roll
Second on the bill is the Premier League’s new leader. James Wade has won his last two games, unbeaten in his last three overall. John Henderson stole the headlines in Aberdeen – deservedly – but that shouldn’t detract from Wade’s magnificent performance against Daryl Gurney. After notching the 10th all-time Premier League whitewash. the Machine is on a roll. He plays Mensur Suljovic, a man seemingly incapable of rolling. Defeat to Gerwyn Price last week brought his mini-revival to a shuddering halt. He could be bottom at the end of the night, if things don’t go his way. And with Judgement Night looming large, the Gentle can’t afford to be the Premier League’s nice guy any more.
It has been a tough time for Raymond van Barneveld. His home life has taken a major turn for the worse, he has dropped out of the world’s top 32, and a dream farewell has quickly become a nightmare. He now needs to face up to the fact that Nottingham, Berlin and Rotterdam are likely to be the last stops on his Premier League Darts farewell tour. It isn’t a good time to play Rob Cross either. Voltage was irresistible against Michael Smith up in Scotland. His tournament average and checkout rate are only topped, narrowly, by James Wade. In some ways this is a changing of the guard, as one Premier League veteran makes way for a player who will surely be part of this event for a long time to come.
This should be a feisty one. A couple of weeks ago, Michael van Gerwen versus Gerwyn Price would’ve been billed as a meeting between the two best players in the world at this time. Both have suffered a dip since then. Price’s is minor, one Premier League draw and a UK Open semi-final exit. He’d have taken both gleefully just 12 short months ago. Michael van Gerwen isn’t in crisis – yet – but he’s losing his aura. A run of four winless matches is a rare low for him. He’ll be pumped up for this tie though. Expect a lot of fist-pumping, roaring, spittle flying, and excellent darts. The loser of this match might be cut adrift if Wade and Cross both win.
The night ends with a mid-table clash between Peter Wright and Daryl Gurney. OK, so ‘mid-table’ is a bit disingenuous when it comes to Wright. Snakebite, despite not playing his best at all yet, is closer to the top of the league from fifth spot than he is to sixth. Gurney meanwhile is in seventh, two points above the dreaded drop zone. Despite his mauling at the hands of Wade, it’s still hard to believe that Gurney will be going anywhere. Matches against Raymond van Barneveld and Mensur Suljovic provide a handy safety net. But they come after a Berlin meeting with Michael van Gerwen. Should he lose in Nottingham, Superchin might go into the last games of the first phase feeling pretty nervous.
Night Six – Thursday March 14
Motorpoint Arena, Nottingham
Nathan Aspinall v Michael Smith
James Wade v Mensur Suljovic
Rob Cross v Raymond van Barneveld
Gerwyn Price v Michael van Gerwen
Peter Wright v Daryl Gurney
Author: Ed McCosh