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The evening’s festivities in Newcastle were kicked off by two old gunslingers of the game in the form of Raymond Van Barneveld and James Wade. Before last year’s world championships, it was announced that this would be Barney’s final premier league campaign as the Dutchman confirmed he would be retiring at the end of 2019. Having been on a steady decline over the past few years, many argued that he was fortunate to have received his wildcard invitation. Unfortunately, the Barney army were left visibly distraught as they witnessed their deflated champion bow out to a 7-4 defeat whilst scoring the lowest average of the evening (95.15). Frustration, disinterest and anger have all become prominent features of the Dutchman’s game whilst his inability to even group his darts suggest a lack of focus. Nowadays, Barney’s game highlights can be reduced to his iconic ‘Eye of the Tiger’ walk-on song. It seems however, that the five-time world champion is going out with a whimper rather than a roar.
Last year’s surprise package was arguably Barney’s opponent, James Wade. During its apogee, the Wade winning formula had been long cagey affairs; averaging just one more than his opponents. Sadly, due to his constant battle with bipolar disorder, we witnessed a steady demise of Wade’s performances. His once consistent throw became stiff and forced whilst his legs made uncomfortable jerking motions. It is thus refreshing to see a rejuvenated Wade winning titles again. If I were a betting man, I would be enticed by the 40/1 each way odds offered on “The Machine”.
Due to the unfortunate withdrawal of Gary Anderson, the PDC have introduced an interesting new feature to this year’s Premier League. The board chose to invite a different local contender each week to play against one of the nine permanent members. This change has understandably received much scrutiny from darts fans who believed “The Wizard” Simon Whitlock warranted Anderson’s place. Nevertheless, this scepticism was soon quashed when Chris Dobey came out to a magnificent reception from his home crowd. The young Geordie utilised the electric atmosphere to put in an awe-inspiring performance; firing in six 180s and a 113 checkout. Alas, he was to be cruelly denied victory by his inconsistency on the doubles. Nevertheless, Dobey really made a name for himself in his 6-6 draw with Mensur Suljovic who reasserted his “Gentle Giant” persona in his warm congratulatory embrace of the youngster. Many fans will be agog to see how Glen Durrant fairs in his first major PDC event next week having finally made the switch over from the BDO following three consecutive world championship titles.
Arguably the surprise of the night was Gerwyn Price’s 7-4 thumping of Daryl Gurney. It is fair to say that “The Iceman” has built up a dissentious reputation for himself; one which was echoed by the chorus of jeers he received upon his entrance. Despite going 2-0 down after several missed doubles, the Welshman shook off the “boo” boys with spectacular power scoring which his opponent could not match. The former rugby man will now be looking to push on following his first ever Premier League win which saw him average a magnificent 104.11.
Unsurprisingly, the odds-on favourite for this year’s title is once again Michael Van Gerwen. The World number 1 is back to defend his Premier League title for a fourth year on the trot. In a repeat of last year’s final, it was business as usual for the “Green Machine” in his mesmerizing 7-5 victory over Michael Smith. “Bully Boy” managed to keep on the champion’s tail with picturesque checkouts; even hitting the highest of the night (150). Nevertheless, his scoring was both lacklustre and inconsistent throughout the game and the double-digit average gap proved too much for the youngster.
An eventful evening was capped off by a 6-6 stalemate between Peter Wright and Rob Cross. As usual, “Snakebite” created a party atmosphere but was unable to beat a resilient Cross. 2017 was the breakthrough year for both these players with Wright winning the UK Open whilst “Voltage” astonishingly claimed the World Championship title. It is fair to say that the bar was raised far too high and thus rendered last year an underwhelming one. This sentiment was reflected in their conservative style of play; steady tonne averages, little 180s scored, no three-digit checkouts and both players happy to settle for the draw.
Valentine’s day sees the city of Glasgow host the Premier League’s second week. One player who will certainly not be feeling the love is Gerwyn Price who has developed a vicious rivalry with Glasgow’s beloved Gary Anderson. However, the standard of darts is set to be so high that you will not regret being single and staying in to watch.