Tag Archives: PDC

Two years on, what to make of the PDC’s monster?

Two years ago I wrote an article on why I considered the Professional Darts Corporation’s decision to sell its events as a party rather than a sport was a gamble. Safe to say, the piece attracted a lot of attention – around 10,000 reads, about 70 percent of the total views this blog has garnered in two and a half years.

The response was mixed, although it was more positive than not, and as it’s still applicable, the post continues to receive comments today – especially at World Championship time. With a lot of water under the bridge, now is the appropriate time to revisit it. Much I continue to believe, although a few comments were admittedly slightly naïve.

In suggesting the PDC has become slaves to a monster, I dare say the past 24 months have vindicated that. Crowds have worsened, so much so that we now hear as many football chants as darts ones, while it sometimes feels as if few would notice if the players just packed up and walked off, given the backdrop behind the players is often a sea of backs instead of faces.

There’s nothing that can be done about this now. Indeed, referees seem to realise the once customary “thank you” is as useful as a Kevin Painter lesson in bottle. That’s the route they’ve gone down and it’s fair to say we’re not near the tipping point yet. A night at the darts remains mighty appealing, even if a night watching the darts doesn’t. With more – albeit anecdotal – evidence that I’ve had from people who say they no longer attend PDC events because of the crowd situation, it’s inevitable that things will keep moving in this direction.

Sadly the PDC revels in drunken tomfoolery. During Wednesday afternoon’s second-round session, the corporation’s official Twitter page shared a GIF of somebody taking a “PINT TO THE FACE!!!” – along with that god-awful crying with laughter emoji –before later deleting it after copious criticism. I cannot think of any other sport that not only allows its spectators to behave like idiots, but actively endorses it.

Any attempts to exercise crowd control are fruitless – they will do what they like when they like and make a lot of noise while doing it. And, as far as the PDC’s finances are concerned, that’s fine for now. But there are undeniably sustainability questions – surrounding having a darts crowd that isn’t there to watch darts – that will become pertinent eventually, although it’s hard to say when. What could change things is a serious kick-off at a UK event that makes headlines outside darts – the likelihood of that seems about as improbable but not impossible as it has ever been.

All of this gloom isn’t to say darts hasn’t made some huge strides, and my comment that the World Championships should have stayed at the Circus Tavern was a mistake borne out of pernicious nostalgia. It was a special place (sort of) and it’s a shame it’s not used for anything, but looking back, moving was the correct decision.

Purfleet’s finest was never the Crucible or a second Lakeside. Ultimately, the Circus was merely a venue that happened to stage darts’ most iconic match as its last World Championship salvo. With darts bidding for the big time, it wasn’t worth saving. The deteriorating atmosphere over the past decade hasn’t been caused by the change in arena, but by the PDC’s refusal to firmly stamp out the nonsense behaviour when it started.

Painting the PDC a “bleak long-term future” was clumsy. There’s plenty of reason to believe, with the growing European market at least, that further expansion is likely and forthcoming. Shipping a big major, ideally the World Grand Prix over to the Netherlands or Germany seems a logical step with the Citywest Hotel in Dublin having the most trouble filling the hall up of late.

That pretty much falls in line with what I said at the time, although it’s slightly bizarre that aside from now hosting a Premier League night, the Dutch are still being ignored. Encouragingly, folk out there and across the continent – while in for a good time – appear to care about what’s happening on the board too.

I still reckon the PDC will have long-term problems keeping its product fresh in the UK, but with other countries chomping at the bit, the organisation should stay in rude health providing it harnesses that potential. Finding a marketable replacement for Phil Taylor will be the bigger challenge.

Nobody has the lure of the Power, not even Michael van Gerwen. Taylor’s world finals against van Gerwen and Anderson in 2013 and 2015 respectively brought in around 1.2 million viewers apiece. Contrast that to the 668,000 who tuned in for van Gerwen versus Peter Wright in 2014, and the 908,000 who switched on for Gary Anderson’s title retention against Adrian Lewis last year. If nothing else, it’s a warning signal, as was the PDC’s foray onto the BBC back in September – despite getting the showpiece Taylor-van Gerwen final, fewer than one million watched it.

So, all in all, I’d like to think I’ve largely been proven right, despite being a tad heavy-handed in certain areas. The PDC has certainly created a monster, but for now, it’s a stable one, and they should be able to keep it so for a while yet. For real fans, who enjoyed going to the darts to watch the darts – such a novel concept – the long-term future is indeed bleak. Darts sold itself to reach new heights, and Barry Hearn concluded neglecting his core, dedicated audience in favour of a wild, carefree gang was for the greater good. Time will tell whether he’s right.

Premier League Darts: Table-toppers to face off in Glasgow

High flyers Michael van Gerwen and Dave Chisnall are set to face off in a top-of-the-table clash on the seventh night of the Premier League at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow.

Old foes Raymond van Barneveld and Phil Taylor meet in the third game of the evening with the struggling Dutchman seeking to stave off relegation in a fortnight’s time.

Gary Anderson will play his first match in Scotland fas world champion when he takes on last-placed Kim Huybrechts while Stephen Bunting goes in search of a third consecutive win against Peter Wright.

Elsewhere, James Wade looks to strengthen his bid for the playoffs in his match with Adrian Lewis – the latter is without a victory in the competition since the opening night.

Dave Chisnall v Michael van Gerwen 

Chisnall’s stint as league leader was short-lived following his loss to Bunting in Nottingham while van Gerwen eventually eased to a 7-3 win against Taylor with an average in excess of 107.

The Dutchman won both of their meetings in last year’s Premier League and is currently on a seven-match winning streak against Chisnall – the St Helens thrower’s last triumph came at the 2013 World Grand Prix. However, their most recent meeting at the Masters in January went to a deciding leg, with van Gerwen needing a 110 average to prevail in an incredible contest.

Inconsistent scoring from Chisnall led to his demise last week and failure to correct this could see him punished again. The world number one has significantly improved his treble-hitting in 2015, a trait that has afforded him more opportunities at doubles, and fewer for his opponents. Chisnall will need to score heavily to keep it close.

Prediction: van Gerwen 7-4 Chisnall

Raymond van Barneveld v Phil Taylor 

Van Barneveld’s defeat to Wade last Thursday has left the defending champion in a perilous position, and his troubles could get worse when he takes on arch-rival Taylor in Glasgow, who is also looking to bounce back after losing a week ago.

The Dutchman secured a first television victory over his nemesis in six years in last year’s semi-final but has been a pale shadow of his former self over recent months, regularly appearing uninterested on stage, and unsure whether to wear glasses or not. Meanwhile, Taylor has produced some up-and-down performances of late but has generally seemed comfortable in the Premier League – where he has played his best.

Much depends on which van Barneveld turns up and if the five-time world champion can start well, this will be a tight affair. A typical Scottish darts crowd can be expected which has a tendency to be anti-English, and boisterous audiences can bother Taylor. But judging on each other’s results this year, and their head-to-head record over the past few seasons, the Englishman should come through comfortably and keep pressure on those ahead of him.

Prediction: Taylor 7-3 van Barneveld

Kim Huybrechts v Gary Anderson

A raucous welcoming for Anderson is guaranteed as he throws his first arrows in his native Scotland as a world champion and after hammering Lewis with a 109 average he starts as favourite against the improving Huybrechts.

The Belgian was narrowly edged out by Wright in Nottingham and finds himself rock-bottom in the league table with just three weeks remaining before two players are eliminated.The two have never clashed on TV before but Anderson holds a 10-4 advantage in their matches on the floor. The Scot is also riding high after claiming a Players Championship win at the weekend in  Barnsley.

An expectant Glasgow could create nerves for Anderson who has been fallible in his home country in the past, and Huybrechts will cash in if given chances. The world champion has little to fear though, and he should cement his position in the top four with two points here.

Prediction: Anderson 7-3 Huybrechts

James Wade v Adrian Lewis 

These two will open the evening’s proceedings and a poor night for Lewis could potentially see him slip into the bottom two. A win over van Barneveld on week six has moved him into the top half of the table, while Lewis has not won in five games.

Wade, fresh from a strong weekend in Barnsley – he won one Players Championship and reached the final of the other – is enjoying a purple patch at the moment and another success here will confirm his playoff credentials. Lewis used a new darts for the first time last week and despite being thrashed by Anderson he did manage an average nigh on 104, which suggests they are worth sticking with.

The two’s extensive rivalry has seen them play 42 times but Wade holds a 6-2 lead in their Premier League encounters – they have also drawn twice. There isn’t too much to choose between them but their records in this competition indicate Wade nicking a tight one.

Prediction: Wade 7-5 Lewis

Peter Wright v Stephen Bunting

After a torrid start Wright has gone unbeaten in his last four outings – winning his first match of the tournament last week – and looks to have finally found an optimum setup with his darts. Bunting has also reversed a poor period, with wins in his last two firing him up into the mid-table.

Wright, who like Anderson is playing on home turf, whitewashed Bunting 10-0 at the UK Open earlier this month but he has lost their other three matches on TV. Both have five points to their name after six weeks, making this an important match as the winner will move close to the top four, while the loser could yet get dragged down into a relegation battle.

This could be the closest bout of the evening with both likely to average around 100, going by the last fortnight. Their scoring should be evenly matched, meaning double-hitting will be even more crucial than normal. The draw is a firm possibility.

Prediction: Peter Wright 6-6 Stephen Bunting

Premier League Darts: Chisnall and Anderson to clash in Exeter

Dave Chisnall will attempt to continue his impressive start to this year’s Premier League when he takes on Gary Anderson on week five of this year’s tournament at the Westpoint Arena in Exeter, on Thursday night.

In a repeat of last year’s world final, Michael van Gerwen goes up against Peter Wright, while James Wade seeks a third-straight win over Phil Taylor on television.

Raymond van Barneveld will look to strengthen his defence of his title against newcomer Kim Huybrechts in the first match of the evening.

In the night’s other battle, Adrian Lewis looks to push on from his  fiery draw with van Gerwen in Belfast, as he plays a struggling Stephen Bunting who has just one point to his name.

Dave Chisnall v Gary Anderson

Chisnall and Anderson have been given top billing for their Devon encounter, fittingly considering their strong starts to the competition.

The St Helens thrower has accumulated seven points from his first four matches – leaving him joint-top with van Gerwen – in a run that has included wins over van Barneveld and Wright. Meanwhile, Anderson is lying third in the table with six points, courtesy of three wins and one loss.

After a flaky performance in week three against van Gerwen, Anderson bounced back with a 7-4 defeat of James Wade in week four. The world champion has beaten Chisnall five out of six times, with two triumphs in the Premier League.

However, ‘Chizzy’ is producing some of the best darts of his PDC career at the moment, demonstrating a much greater proficiency on his doubles, and this progress culminated last week with his win over Kim Huybrechts where he posted an average of 107.

The Scot is based in neighbouring county Somerset and should have the home support, which could play a factor as the crowd managed to irk Chisnall during his match with van Barneveld in Bournemouth three weeks ago. But his form has been strong and if he throws well again, trying to pick a fight would be foolish.

The quick pace should suit both and this will be a high-scoring affair . In a battle between two of the league’s early form horses, a draw would come as no surprise.

Prediction: Chisnall 6-6 Anderson

James Wade v Phil Taylor 

Taylor finds himself in a rather peculiar position ahead of his match with Wade, in that he has lost to him in their last two TV meetings. A major contrast to the stranglehold the 16-time world champion has traditionally imposed in front of the television cameras – ‘The Machine’ had previously never defeated Taylor in a TV knockout match.

Anderson is the only player in PDC history to notch three consecutive wins over ‘The Power’ on TV – a currently active streak – a feat Wade can emulate by winning this match.

After an opening night defeat, Taylor has risen to fourth in the table but his failure to beat Wright last Thursday has stemmed his momentum somewhat. Wade’s first loss of the tournament came against Anderson in Belfast but he has only recorded one victory in the first four weeks.

A dogged Wade has shown himself to be tough to beat but he can be vulnerable when his opponent scores heavily. Taylor’s scoring has been mixed so far but he looked imperious in his dispatching of Lewis a few weeks ago.

Taylor still has the edge more often than not when he takes to the oche, but the gap has narrowed and he is more regularly punished now for his off-colour performances. But taking into account their past few matches – and Taylor’s superior averages – Wade will need to be somewhere near his best to prevent his nemesis taking two points.

Prediction: Taylor 7-3 Wade

Peter Wright v Michael van Gerwen

Van Gerwen succumbed sole possession of top spot following his draw with Lewis in Belfast, while Wright secured a fighting point against Taylor to kick-start his campaign.

The Dutchman heads in to the contest as the heavy favourite having beaten his opponent in all eight of their televised meetings. Wright has also lost four times in a row to van Gerwen in all competition, with his last win coming at a UK Open Qualifier in February 2014.

Current form also suggests there is only one winner here with van Gerwen shooting a plethora of 105-plus averages since being dethroned as world champion in January – a period which included a run of five titles from six tournaments.

On last week’s evidence, Wright should produce a respectable performance.  He has seemingly – after much tinkering with the set-up – found a more fruitful throwing combination, which allowed him to manage a draw against Taylor –  a far-cry from some of his earlier efforts in the season.

Still, he will have to significantly up his level again to challenge the world number one, whose brutal scoring is blitzing everyone this year. When at his peak, all of his rivals have proven mere cannon-fodder.

Prediction: van Gerwen 7-3 Wright

Adrian Lewis v Stephen Bunting

Over his Premier League career, Lewis’ only consistency has been his inconsistency, and it’s a trend he is continuing so far in this year’s edition, with one win, one defeat, and two draws from four games. He has the chance to push up the table on Thursday though when he plays Stephen Bunting, who lies at the foot of the table with a solitary point.

Bunting has failed to settle in his first Premier League, suffering three straight losses and he faces being cut adrift if he doesn’t arrest the slide soon. With this plight, it could make Lewis either the best or worst opponent. The two-time world champion was brilliant in averaging 114 to beat van Barneveld in week one, but a fortnight later he could only muster 92 in a draw with Huybrechts.

Nevertheless, even the latter Lewis may still see off Bunting. Guilty of panicking in his matches, and often conceding early leads, the Liverpudlian is low on confidence and looks to have forgotten how to win. The Premier League is an unforgiving format, as the likes of Mark Webster and Wes Newton have previously found out. Unless he relaxes and stops fighting himself, the likelihood of him fighting his adversary on the oche is minute.

Lewis was much-improved in his edgy fixture with van Gerwen a week ago but spurned a 6-4 lead to only share the spoils. Bunting, meanwhile, fell behind early against van Barneveld and lagged behind throughout the match to lose 7-4.

There is always an element of doubt with the enigmatic Lewis, but this match could well be lost by the inferiority of Bunting’s arrows, as opposed to the superiority of his.

Prediction: Lewis 7-2 Bunting

Raymond van Barneveld v Kim Huybrechts 

Few lose a match when averaging 107 but Huybrechts was consigned to a third defeat in four by Chisnall last time out despite doing just that. Less convincingly, van Barneveld clung on to beat Bunting – a match where his mentality appeared the greatest burden.

Their last showings make this Benelux bout all the more intriguing. The Belgian performed to a higher standard than the Dutchman in their respective matches, but it was the Dutchman who walked off with two points while the Belgian left empty-handed.

Van Barneveld’s defence of his Premier League title has stuttered and spluttered so far but his win over Bunting has hoisted him into the mix and he will be favoured to trump Huybrechts who is winless as of yet in his debut season.

The defending champion has looked a tad vulnerable – sometimes donning spectacles, other times going without. He collapsed from 5-1 up against Wright and also missed clumps of doubles when playing Chisnall. If the Belgian can churn out a solid 100 average game he will cause problems. Of course, van Barneveld has more in the tank but hasn’t been able to sustain his hot streaks for more than a handful of legs.

Interestingly, Huybrechts has won all six of their previous encounters, however the two have never met before on TV.

Until he nails a first win, Huybrechts will be nervous and he can ill-afford another pointless evening, but he seems to have settled into the event over the past couple of weeks. Van Barneveld has done nothing to indicate he will blow his opponent away and therefore, a draw or perhaps even a Huybrechts win could be on the cards.

Prediction: van Barneveld 6-6 Huybrechts

Premier League Darts: van Gerwen’s draw with Lewis allows Chisnall to share top spot

Dave Chisnall drew level at the top of the Premier League table after Michael van Gerwen drew against Adrian Lewis at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast.

Chisnall beat Kim Huybrechts 7-4 in the first match of the night to pick up a third league win and maintain his unbeaten start after the fourth week of competition.

In the last match of the evening, a determined Peter Wright kept his unbeaten record against Phil Taylor in the Premier League intact, with a draw.

Elsewhere, world champion Gary Anderson defeated James Wade, Raymond van Barneveld saw off Stephen Bunting.

Michael van Gerwen v Adrian Lewis

A late fightback saw Michael van Gerwen nick a draw in a dramatic encounter with Adrian Lewis.

Van Gerwen accused his opponent of “slowing him down” in an interview to Sky Sports after the match, also adding that believed he was “the better player”.

Rebutting the comments made, Lewis said he can play slow and fast and that “Michael obviously doesn’t have that calibre”.

There was only one player in that game and I should have won. But to come back from 5-2 down feels great! – Michael van Gerwen

A focussed van Gerwen started strongly but a nerveless 112 checkout from Lewis prevented the Dutchman from breaking early.

After holding again, a crucial 70 saw Jackpot snare a break and he consolidated with a calm 82 finish in the sixth leg while van Gerwen lurked on double eight.

A narrowly missed bull proved academical as Lewis opened a three-leg gap but sloppy scoring helped van Gerwen recover one break and he moved to within a leg after finishing the ninth in just 10 darts.

Lewis struck back to ensure a point but proceeded to slacken off again as his clinical opponent pinched four of the last five legs – rallying from a 5-2 deficit – to salvage a draw.

Kim Huybrechts v Dave Chisnall

An exhibition of power scoring saw Dave Chisnall secure a third Premier League win in four matches with a 7-4 victory over Kim Huybrechts.

In what was a high-quality contest, the pair shared 10 180s between them – Chisnall hitting six – as both averaged in excess of 107.

After sharing the opening two legs, a 90 finish in the third gave Chisnall an early break. A 10-darter from Huybrechts halted his opponent’s run of three straight legs but two missed darts at tops in the next allowed Chisnall to restore a two-leg cushion.

The Belgian kept in contention despite missing double 12 for a nine-dart finish however Chisnall’s strength on his own throw saw him to a 6-4 advantage – guaranteeing a point – before closing out the match in the next with a 100 checkout.

Gary Anderson v James Wade

A Gary Anderson surge saw him claim six of the last seven legs against James Wade to win 7-4.

Wade started brightly, breaking throw in the opening leg and a 14-darter in the next moved him 2-0 ahead.

Five missed darts at doubles for Anderson weren’t punished as he opened his account in leg three but further spurned chances in the fourth prevented him from levelling.

A 67 checkout galvanised the Scot to break with an 11-darter in the sixth, and he moved ahead for the first time after Wade missed double 16 for a 146 finish. The Machine arrested the slide – holding throw for four-all – but the world champion broke at the next opportunity, going 6-4 up to take a point.

And after Wade failed to apply pressure on the Anderson throw, the latter sealed the win with an assured 92 checkout and an average just shy of 99.

Stephen Bunting v Raymond van Barneveld

Reigning champion Raymond van Barneveld triumphed in a tense affair with Stephen Bunting, winning 7-4 in a battle of the early strugglers.

Bunting narrowly missed double 10 for a 128 and five further wayward darts aided a spectacled van Barneveld to an early break which he confirmed by holding for 2-0.

The former Lakeside world champion wasted another six darts in the next as the Dutchman eased to a controlling 4-0 lead.

Van Barneveld continued to capitalise tame scoring from Bunting who became visibly irritated once again on the Premier League stage, but he registered his first leg in the fifth with a two-dart 78-outshot.

Bunting restored one of the breaks after van Barneveld failed on double 18 and double nine, and those misses proved the catalyst for a collapse in his scoring.

However, vital checkouts in legs 10 and 11 ensured a first win for the five-time world champion, as Bunting was condemned to a third loss in four matches.

Phil Taylor v Peter Wright

The first four legs of the match went with throw as Wright was vastly improved on his previous matches.

After Taylor missed double top for a 160 finish, Wright nailed double 16 to snatch a break. But a poor leg allowed Taylor to immediately break back.

Wright was afforded a chance after the 16-time world champion couldn’t break again, and he took his chance, hitting double 10 for four-apiece.

Taylor was almost shell-shocked when Wright came close to finishing 161 but hit double 16 with one dart in hand to hold throw. However, Wright continued to be solid and left his opponent few chances.

The Power won the 11th leg to earn a point, but a 180 in the deciding leg gave Wright the breathing room to comfortably complete a draw.

League Table

Week 4Chisnall’s win sees him move level with van Gerwen at the top of the table while Anderson’s return to winning ways leaves him just one point behind in third.

A draw for Peter Wright moved him out of the drop zone, an area occupied by Huybrechts and Bunting after they suffered further defeats.

Next week’s Premier League will be held at the Westpoint Arena in Exeter, with darts remaining in the South West for the UK Open which takes place in Minehead between March 6-8.

Premier League Darts: Roadshow heads to Belfast for Week Four

Early leader Michael van Gerwen will seek to maintain his perfect start to this year’s Premier League against Adrian Lewis at Belfast’s Odyssey Arena, on the fourth night of this year’s tournament.

World champion Gary Anderson will aim bounce back to winning ways following his 7-4 defeat to van Gerwen last week, when he takes on James Wade.

Elsewhere, Peter Wright faces a tough task to secure his first win of the season in the form of a resurgent Phil Taylor. And Stephen Bunting – a 7-1 victim to Taylor in Liverpool – meets Raymond van Barneveld in a repeat of their world championship quarter-final in January.

In the other match of the evening, the unbeaten Dave Chisnall goes up against Belgium’s Kim Huybrechts.

Michael van Gerwen v Adrian Lewis

Van Gerwen secured a third successive win of the competition against Anderson last week while Lewis managed a draw in a cagey match with Huybrechts.

The two have enjoyed some memorable battles in the past but the Dutchman has held the edge over recent times and is unbeaten in their last seven meetings on television – a run that stretches back to the 2013 Grand Slam of Darts.

Lewis fired in a near-114 average against van Barneveld in week one but has not reproduced that level since. Meanwhile, van Gerwen was imperious in his first two matches before prevailing in a more scrappy affair with Anderson.

This is sure to be a fast-paced game between two former world champions and they usually bring the best out of each other. However, judging on their league performances so far, van Gerwen’s newfound consistency should be the attribute that pulls him through.

Prediction: van Gerwen 7-4 Lewis

Gary Anderson v James Wade

Fragility on the doubles served to haunt Anderson in his loss to van Gerwen and the Scotsman will face a testing challenge to get back on track against Wade, who has claimed a win and two draws in his opening three matches.

Anderson scrambled over the line against Taylor before demolishing Wright and has been impressive during the first few weeks of his reign as world champion. Wade averaged 104 in beating Huybrechts in week two, but barely managed 90 to claim a draw against Chisnall last Thursday.

Wade reversed a 3-1 deficit when the two met in the World Grand Prix semi-finals back in October, but Anderson exacted revenge last month, with victory at the Masters. However, before that match, Wade had not lost on TV against the Scot for almost three years.

Providing Anderson can pin his doubles like he has over the past 12 months, his scoring power should be enough to grab the win. But if he is sloppy for a second week running, Wade’s vulture-like qualities will punish him.

Prediction: Anderson 7-4 Wade

Phil Taylor v Peter Wright

Following a post-Christmas lapse, Taylor has returned to form over the past few weeks – with two Premier League wins and a UK Open Qualifier title at the weekend – and he threatens to dispatch a vulnerable Wright in the final match of the night.

Paying the price for regularly fiddling with his darts, Wright has only a point to his name after three weeks and finds himself at the foot of the table. In contrast, Taylor has risen to third in the league, recovering promptly from his initial defeat to Anderson.

Wright did pinch a draw after van Barneveld spurned a 5-1 advantage in Liverpool, but a failure to chalk up more than one leg against Anderson and Chisnall suggests he is severely out of form.

The evidence points towards a drubbing, Wright will need his A game to prevent one, and will probably require Taylor to be off his.

Prediction: Taylor 7-1 Wright

Stephen Bunting v Raymond van Barneveld

These two will face off on the big stage for the first time since their memorable quarter-final at Alexandra Palace last month, where van Barneveld eked out a dramatic 5-4 win.

The five-time world champion has, however, been off-colour in the defence of his Premier League crown so far but he has the chance to record his first win of the tournament against a struggling Bunting.

Last year’s Lakeside champion has endured a difficult start to his Premier League career, with two losses and a draw so far. Both are desperate for a win here or they risk being cut adrift from the field, with the bottom two set to be relegated after week nine.

A scrappy contest is likely, a sharing of the spoils would come as no surprise here.

Prediction: van Barneveld 6-6 Bunting

Kim Huybrechts v Dave Chisnall

A draw against Lewis gave Huybrechts his first Premier League point last time out and a match with Chisnall presents him with the opportunity to capture a maiden win.

St Helens’ Chisnall has won the key moments in his matches so far, accruing five points from three games (won v Wright, won v Barneveld, drew v Wade) despite averaging below 95 in all of them – a run that has placed him at a handy second in the table.

The two’s last big meeting came in the semi-finals of the Grand Slam of Darts in November. Chisnall nicked a thrilling 16-15 win on that occasion – their only previous meeting on TV.

Huybrechts has the game to win but his opponent has developed a desirable winning habit. This should be tight, but going on their performances so far, Chisnall will edge it and continue his strong start.

Prediction: Chisnall 7-4 Huybrechts

The Odyssey Arena is hosting the Belfast leg of the Premier League for the eighth time. The venue first held the event back in 2008.

Magical van Gerwen storms to European title

Michael van Gerwen defeated world champion Gary Anderson 6-2 with an average just shy of 118 to win the first European Tour event of the year in Hildesheim, on Sunday evening.

The world number one dropped only seven legs in four matches on the final day of the tournament as he blitzed Stephen Bunting and Mensur Suljovic while also overcoming surprise qualifier Joe Murnan 6-4 in the quarter-finals.

After sharing the first four legs of the final with a barrage of 180s, van Gerwen stretched clear courtesy of 151 and 167 checkouts, before pinning a 10-darter followed by a 12 to claim the title and scoop the £20,000 first prize. The Dutchman’s triumph continues his scintillating start to the 2015 season, which has seen him lose only once since his semi-final beating at the World Championship by Anderson.

Despite falling short in the final, the tournament marked another lucrative weekend for the third-ranked Anderson,  who further narrows the gap to Phil Taylor in the PDC Order of Merit. The Scotsman’s day began with a 6-2 win over Steve Beaton, which he consolidated with a 6-0 whitewash of Justin Pipe before dispatching Adrian Lewis for the loss of two legs in the last four.

Elsewhere, Suljovic enjoyed a memorable run to the semi-finals, his methodical play secured the scalps of both Michael Smith and Robert Thornton. He was eventually blown away by van Gerwen 6-1 after his otherwise impressive doubling eluded him at the crucial stages.

It was also a superb weekend for Joe Murnan who reached his first PDC quarter-final after beating Brendan Dolan. His run was finally halted by van Gerwen, succumbing 6-4 but not before giving the eventual winner a scare.

The next European Tour event is scheduled to take place in Gibraltar in mid-March. James Wade is the defending champion.

The PDC returns to action on Thursday night with the Premier League at Liverpool’s Echo Arena. Anderson and van Gerwen will meet again in a repeat of the Hildesheim final.

PDC Unibet Masters Preview: James Wade set to defend title

Fresh from the awards night at The Dorchester – yes, modern-day darts has expensive taste – the top 16 are back on the scene to contest the Unibet Masters in Milton Keynes this weekend.

With changes in both venue and scheduling – the former likely due to the rather vocal Scottish crowd at the last edition – James Wade is back to defend the title he won in dramatic fashion a little under three months ago in Edinburgh.

Here’s a preview of the first-round match-ups, all best-of-19 leg encounters.

James Wade vs Mervyn King

Wade starts his campaign against the man who squandered a cluster of match darts to beat him in last year’s final, Mervyn King. Both suffered early exits at the World Championships – King was ousted in the first round by Max Hopp while Wade fell in the next round to Stephen Bunting – and will be keen to start 2015 off on a good note.

The match should be full of high-quality finishing – a trait which served both of them well as they enjoyed strong 2014’s. It’s a tough one to call but with King’s recent Achilles trouble, as well as a trapped sciatic nerve, Wade has the edge in this one.

Gary Anderson vs Andy Hamilton

Playing his first match as a world champion, Gary Anderson opens his title bid against the struggling Andy Hamilton. Victory over Phil Taylor in the final at the Alexandra Palace capped off a brilliant 12 months for the Scotsman, and he is a massive favourite for this match.

Hamilton was fortunate to reach the last 16 at the Worlds, with unconvincing wins over Dave Richardson and Kyle Anderson, before being whitewashed by Peter Wright. It capped off an unassuming year for The Hammer and his form of late makes it hard to envisage him getting close in this one.

Simon Whitlock vs Raymond van Barneveld

Simon Whitlock is the higher seed for his clash with five-time world champion Raymond van Barneveld but the Australian has been out of sorts, with his first-round exit at Ally Pally culminating a torrid year for The Wizard – a result which has also seen him miss out on this year’s Premier League.

A dogged run to the semi-finals in London displayed fighting qualities from van Barneveld that have become all too rare. Despite not playing his best darts, the Dutchman is finding a way to win matches. If the new-found grit is on show, Barney should have little trouble dispatching Whitlock, who could hurtle down the rankings in 2015.

Phil Taylor vs Terry Jenkins

After the Daily Mirror incorrectly reported Phil Taylor would miss this event following the death of his mother, the 16-time world champion confirmed he would be participating and he faces a testing opening match against Terry Jenkins.

Taylor was solid, if unspectacular, in his run to another world championship final whilst Jenkins gave a good account of himself in a run to the third round. In normal circumstances Taylor progressing would seem almost a certainty, but with his personal situation, and Jenkins’ penchant for an upset, The Bull could score an upset win.

Michael van Gerwen vs Wes Newton

With his world title defence ending in a 6-3 semi-final beating by Anderson, Michael van Gerwen will look to get back on track as he takes on Wes Newton. The world number one dazzled at times at the Worlds while Newton was bounced out ignominiously by Spanish qualifier Cristo Reyes on the opening night. The Dutchman should win through comfortably.

Adrian Lewis vs Ian White

Adrian Lewis is probably still scratching his head from his last 16 loss to van Barneveld last month in a match he dominated, but somehow failed to close out. Stoke-on-Trent’s Ian White meets Lewis in Milton Keynes and a similarly off-guard Lewis performance could see White with a chance. That said, if Jackpot is near his best he should prevail in a race to 10 legs.

Robert Thornton vs Dave Chisnall

Robert Thornton threw some of his best arrows in a run to the quarter-finals at Ally Pally, and will be confident ahead of his clash with Dave Chisnall. After reaching the final in November’s Grand Slam of Darts, Chizzy failed to replicate that form at the Worlds, as he was conquered in the second round by Benito van de Pas. Both players are evenly matched though and this one is fiendishly difficult to call. It could go 10-9 either way.

Peter Wright vs Brendan Dolan

Following a confident run to the last eight in London, Peter Wright matches up against Northern Ireland’s Brendan Dolan at the Masters. Snakebite, who has vowed to prove his doubters wrong this year, should have enough in hand to beat a steady opponent whose tendency to miss doubles at crucial times could ultimately cost him.

Predicted Quarter-Finals
Michael van Gerwen vs Robert Thornton
Peter Wright vs Adrian Lewis
Phil Taylor vs Raymond van Barneveld
James Wade vs Gary Anderson

Predicted Semi-Finals
Michael van Gerwen vs Peter Wright
Phil Taylor vs Gary Anderson

Predicted Final
Michael van Gerwen vs Gary Anderson

Predicted Champion: Gary Anderson

The action gets under way on Saturday at 12.45pm and all of the matches are broadcast on ITV4 in the United Kingdom.