Welcome back to OpenOdds’ Darts Round Up, as we move into the final week of the Premier League’s regular season. The final sheet of league fixtures take place in Leeds, and offer up some intriguing questions ahead of the play-offs. With Rob Cross and Michael van Gerwen already assured of their place in the semi-finals, will they be at their best against top-four contenders James Wade and Mensur Suljovic? With four players fighting over the remaining two play-off spots, are we going to see someone miss out in heartbreaking fashion?
Last week’s action in Sheffield cleared up a few things, at least. The top two players in the table finally sealed their places in the play-off stage, with Cross maintaining his spot at the top of the rankings and placing himself in pole position to take the £25,000 league leader’s bonus. Van Gerwen remained hot on the heels of the Englishman, while James Wade missed the chance to all but seal his own place in the last four – and could now be facing elimination at the very final hurdle. Let’s take a look at what happened last week, what could take place this Thursday, and what the bookmakers have to say for themselves about all of it.
Cross stays on top
Since the inception of the Premier League, only two players have had the honour of finishing top of the table at the end of the regular season. From 2005-2012, it was Phil Taylor, who went on to win the final and become champion in six of those eight competitions. From 2013 to the present, it has been Michael van Gerwen, who has gone on to make the final each time, losing only in 2014 to Raymond van Barneveld and the following year to Gary Anderson. This year, though, Rob Cross is within one win of becoming the third player to finish on top of the tree – and he faces Wade in Thursday night’s final fixture.
Cross will know ahead of the match what he needs to do and, having brought some of his best darts of the season to defeat Mensur Suljovic 8-4 in Sheffield, will be confident of defeating Wade if he needs to. Wade, for his part, may already have his place in the play-offs secured by the time he reaches the oche, depending on Suljovic and Daryl Gurney’s results in prior matches. Considering the form Cross brings into the match, we think Unibet’s price of Evens makes him the smart bet – but keep an eye on the preceding match between van Gerwen and Suljovic, as it could have an impact on each player’s motivation for this showdown.
MvG needs to win and hope
After the early running of this season’s competition, Michael van Gerwen was comfortably on top of the Premier League and looked sure to secure a seventh consecutive Leader’s Bonus. However, some shaky play has seen him lose twice to Wade, and a recent loss at the hands of Gurney saw the defending champion cede his table-top position to Cross. MvG was back in form last week to pull out an 8-1 thrashing of Peter Wright, delivering a season-best average of 110.85 as he demolished the out-of-form Scot. The Dutchman can put pressure on his rival for the top spot by picking up a win or draw against Mensur Suljovic in Leeds.
Suljovic starts the match as an underdog for obvious reasons – not least of which is the 7-3 defeat he has already suffered at the hands of van Gerwen this season. A win would not guarantee the Austrian his spot in the play-offs (he comes into the final week with an identical record to Daryl Gurney and heads the Northern Irishman by virtue of having won more legs against the throw). All Suljovic can do is throw his best, and hope. Overall, it seems unrealistic to expect him to win against a motivated van Gerwen – however, given the Austrian’s surprising perseverance and MvG’s own struggles, picking the Draw at 5/1 with William Hill may be a smart bet.
Outside chances for Gurney and Price
The first pairing to take to the stage in Leeds will be Gerwyn Price and Peter Wright. With the Welshman needing a win to have any chance of progress, he’ll be cheered by the identity of his opponent. Wright has lost his last four matches and shown no sign of being on the brink of a turnaround, so Betway’s 13/10 odds on Price emerging victorious seem like a pre-emptive Odds Boost. Currently a point behind the top four, the explosive Welshman needs a win and to see Gurney and Suljovic both fail to take maximum points for there to be any chance of making the knockout rounds. The winning he can control – and should be a formality, but the rest may not swing his way.
Gurney, who will come out next for his own final fling against Michael Smith, might relish the chance to end Price’s involvement after the two players fought out a 7-7 draw in Sheffield. The match ended with an exchange of words and shoving between Gurney and Price, with the former accusing the latter of talking while the Northern Irishman was throwing. Gurney apologised for instigating the confrontation, but went on to indicate that there was residual annoyance at the petulant Price for his conduct during the game.
The Mallusk man will hit the oche against Smith knowing exactly what result he needs to knock out Price, and has all the motivation he needs. It won’t hurt that Smith is already eliminated and may not put up too much of a fight; with Gurney having thrown some of his best darts in recent weeks, Coral’s 13/10 odds on him winning seem overly generous. If he can bank the two points here, Gurney then needs to hope for Suljovic not to win, or for Wade to lose, to ensure his place in the final four.