Welcome back to OpenOdds’ Darts round-up, where we look back at a week of Premier League action that didn’t secure anyone’s place in the play-offs, but certainly ended the last flickering hopes of a couple of players. A night of draws in Birmingham last time out was followed by four matches in Manchester which all had definitive winners. The result of a decisive night at the Manchester Arena was a considerable overhaul of the league table – and it means this week’s action in Sheffield could give real clarity to the race for play-off places.
There are plenty of stories to tell from the night’s darts – including a second consecutive setback for the competition favourite, the confirmation of what we all knew about Peter Wright and Michael Smith’s bids, and the continuing under-the-radar form of James Wade. As we preview this Thursday’s action, though, let’s look first at potentially the match of the night, which brings together two players hanging just outside the play-off spots, and barely separated by the bookmakers.
Gurney takes a big step forward
The only player to pick up a win in Birmingham, Daryl Gurney turned up in Manchester knowing he needed a win against Michael van Gerwen to keep alive credible hope of entering the play-offs for the first time. Few gave him a chance, with the bookies pricing him a 5/1 outsider. However, the Northern Irish star raced into a 4-0 lead and thereafter held his nerve to defeat the defending champion for a second time in a row. 8-5 was the winning score, and it moved the Derryman into fifth spot in the table; just above Gerwyn Price.
It’s Price that he will face at the FlyDSA Arena, and the Welshman may still be smarting from an 8-4 reverse against James Wade. The match saw a return of the losing player’s questionable temperament, as he refused a handshake from his opponent before leaving the stage. Price may need to use this week to get his mind back on his game, as defeat against Gurney would all but end his chances of qualification for the knock-out stage. Paddy Power have the players quite evenly-matched, but the man from Mallusk is narrow favourite at 13/10 – and worth backing, considering his recent form.
Cross moves back to the top, Smith eliminated
Defeat two weeks ago at the hands of van Gerwen seemed to have stalled Rob Cross’s shot at first place in the table, but the Englishman profited from Gurney’s win over MvG by reeling off an unsurprisingly comfortable 8-1 win over Michael Smith. This confirmed the beaten Smith’s elimination from play-off contention, his distant hopes of a Lazarus-style resurrection disappearing completely from view as Cross took the first five legs to move back to the top of the tree. Top spot could be hugely important this season, as it seems likely that the second-place player will have to play Wade in the semi-finals; not an easy assignment for anyone.
Other results in Manchester meant that Cross could not confirm his play-off spot on the night, but he has the chance to make sure of progress by defeating Mensur Suljovic this week. The Austrian inflicted (another) defeat on Peter Wright to move into fourth in the table, and won’t give Cross as easy an evening as Smith did, but Dafabet are probably not far wrong in making the Englishman a narrow odds-on favourite at ⅚. If you fancy a shock, the same bookie has Suljovic at 21/10.
Bottom Two lose again
We’ve already mentioned Smith’s heavy defeat at the hands of Cross, which came as little surprise given that the former had previously admitted that he saw no hope of featuring in the play-offs. However, the accepted elimination became a mathematical certainty with the night’s results, and the same was true for Peter Wright. The Scotsman, now without a win in nine Premier League games, fell 5-1 behind against Suljovic before briefly rallying to close the gap to 5-4. That was as close as it got, though, and in the final leg the Austrian pulled off a 12-dart finish to take both points.
It remains to be seen what effect the presence of two non-competitive players will now have on the players still fighting for play-off spots. With the pressure lifted, will they perform better? We’ll have the chance to see on Thursday, as Wright is up against van Gerwen. All of the evidence points towards a tenth winless match in a row for the underdog, and MvG’s price of 3/10 at William Hill might even be considered generous – but maybe Wright will be a loose cannon, and find wins easier to come by now that they’re completely worthless to him.
Equally, Smith could have an impact on the play-off picture as he faces Wade in the evening’s kick-off match. A win for the third-placed Wade would move him temporarily level on points with van Gerwen, and given the utter hammering Smith just suffered at the hands of Cross, it seems clear that Wade should be big favourite here. In fact, he’s available at Evens with Unibet, which feels like a much longer price than the players’ relative form merits. If you can find an (higher, if you can find an odds boost that could be even better. Again, maybe Smith will pull out season’s-best darts with the pressure off, but we wouldn’t bank on it in either his, or Wright’s case.