The six-way scrap
The pressure is on the Premier League stars as they scrap to make the final four, says Rod Harrington.
Last Updated: 02/05/12 1:50pm
The pressure is really building in the race for the Premier League play-offs. It'll be twice as intense as it was last week as six men scrap over three spots.
Phil Taylor is coasting away at the top and Gary Anderson is pretty much out of it at the bottom, but the rest of them can still make the top four. I love seeing players under that sort of pressure. This is when the real big boys come out to play.
We should get four great games in Birmingham. Things could be a little bit edgy and I think we're going to see a few doubles missed. However, we've got some great players in this competition so I expect some big ton-plus shot-outs at crucial times. That's what it'll take to get a win on the board.
There have been no whipping boys this year and I'm pleased that the two newcomers - Andy Hamilton and Kevin Painter - are still in there fighting. Myself and the PDC got some stick for choosing them and they've proved themselves to be good picks. Who else could have gone in and done a better job?
Andy got a great point against Raymond van Barneveld last week, but Kev will be kicking himself after only getting a draw with James Wade. I felt Wade got out of jail and that point could prove to be crucial.
In other years there might only be one place up for grabs at this stage, but there's all to play for with just two weeks left.
Usually 10 points would take you through, but we've already got five players above that total. That just shows that this has been the strongest Premier League ever.
Simon Whitlock v Andy Hamilton
I think Simon Whitlock only needs a point to secure his place in the last four. He didn't play well against Phil Taylor last week and came away complaining about silly things; the sort of stuff he shouldn't worry about. He needs to focus on winning seven legs on Thursday night and not think about anything else. He threw a nine-darter at the weekend, his scoring power is good and he's hitting doubles again. He should be confident, instead of making excuses when he loses. He needs to forget about Taylor and concentrate on the future.
Hamilton has been fighting his backside off all season and has proved himself to be the king of draws. He's dropped two or three points from winning positions and that could come back to haunt him; you have to close it out against this calibre of player. Nothing but two points is going to be good enough for Hamilton here and he needs to try to win the first two or three legs to put pressure on his opponent and force mistakes. But there's pressure on him to win as well and I think Whitlock should get the point he needs.
Gary Anderson v Raymond van Barneveld
I spoke to Gary Anderson last week and he wants this competition to finish so he can clear his head and get all the things that have been going on in his personal life out of the way without having to play darts every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. He could be seen as a soft touch, but if he turns up on his best form then he's capable of mauling anybody. He has nothing to lose and can go up and play his natural game.
Barney played well in Austria at the weekend, but I think he needs maximum points this week. He's in fifth position and I don't think a draw is good enough for him. A point would not be fateful to his hopes, but I think he needs two ahead of a potential make-or-break game with James Wade in Newcastle.
Kevin Painter v Adrian Lewis
Kev has been playing extremely well. Earlier in the season he was complaining about his luck after being on the receiving end of record-breaking performances by Taylor and Barney. Now he's going up, forgetting about all of that and playing the dartboard. He's got on with his own game in the last few weeks and that should help him in future TV events. He's currently sixth, but if he can get two points against the world champ he will feel confident of beating Hamilton next week. That would leave him on 13 points and that may scrape him in.
Adrian Lewis is going to be a tough task because he's flying at the moment. I'm disappointed he didn't go out to play in Austria last weekend because a big tournament win would have given him a boost. He's got his scoring power back and his form has been kick-started by some big shots early on in matches, so Kev will hope that doesn't happen again in Birmingham. Lewis is in fourth place, but if he loses this one then he really will be in the mix before a massive match with Whitlock in the final week. Going on the form book I'll go for a Lewis win, but you don't know what might happen under pressure.
James Wade v Phil Taylor
Phil Taylor will still be on a revenge mission after losing to Adrian Lewis a couple of weeks ago. He didn't play in Austria at the weekend, but I don't think that should affect the form that has seen him coast much of this Premier League season.
Wade is third, but hasn't been playing well and got out of jail to draw with Painter last week. He wasn't happy when he walked off stage and I don't think he's in the greatest frame of mind to play at the top of his game - and his best is definitely good enough to beat Taylor. He's had the game in the past and he'll have it again in the future, but I'm not sure if he has it right now.
I see The Power winning this one and leaving James in a really precarious position before his final match with Barney. It should be a cracking game, but James knows that a draw would ease his situation quite a lot.