If I had a pound for every time I’d heard Phillip Douglas Taylor written off by pundits and fans alike over the years, I’d be an extremely rich man. Last week, Taylor suffered a 7-2 humbling against his old-foe Raymond van Barneveld in week 10 of the Premier League in Sheffield. Van Barneveld had beaten Taylor 7-4 in Glasgow just one month ago, but last week’s defeat was far more damaging.
Taylor averaged a paltry 86.80; van Barneveld was professional and hit some key shots at crucial times, but the Dutchman was certainly playing within himself, posting a 95.43 average. It was an uncharacteristic performance from Taylor in several ways; he was hitting the five segment with concerning regularity, including 9 times within the opening two legs. He just looked devoid of any confidence; particularly on the doubles, where he recorded a miserly 18% success-rate. Is Taylor in danger of missing out on a Top 4 spot? Definitely. But is talk about Taylor’s impending demise completely exaggerated and premature? Absolutely!
Taylor sits in 4th place in the Premier League table, but his position is certainly a precarious one, having lost four of his last five fixtures. He sits just 2pts above 8th place Stephen Bunting ahead of a defining night in Aberdeen tomorrow. The Power faces a double-header against Bunting and the red-hot Dave Chisnall; knowing that two defeats would be catastrophic for his hopes of reaching the O2. This is Taylor’s 11th Premier League appearance; he has never failed to make the Top 4; in fact he’s never finished below 3rd place, so this would be unprecedented and almost unthinkable.
Is Taylor merely out of form? Possibly; he has produced two very mediocre performances in consecutive weeks, which is very unlike the 54-year-old, but this week’s action in Aberdeen will provide us with a much firmer indication into Taylor’s form and immediate future. However, you should write him off at your peril and here’s why:
- Taylor boasts the tournament’s highest average, 103.93. This betters Michael van Gerwen’s equally impressive average of 103.40 throughout the event. This indicates that Taylor’s recent slump is not terminal, despite two indifferent displays over the last fortnight. He has recorded seven 100+ averages over the ten weeks of competition thus far; so he can arguably consider himself unfortunate to not be higher up the table. Averages are not a definitive illustration of form, but they certainly provide a strong gauge of how you’re playing, so Taylor fans shouldn’t be too concerned at this juncture.
- Taylor is encountering a number of personal problems at present, which will unquestionably be affecting his performance. His mother, Liz, passed away in early January, after battling a lung-infection. Taylor was extremely close to his mother and he admitted on several occasions that she was a massive influence and inspiration on his career. In early February, just weeks after his mother’s death, The Power admitted: “There has been a lot of negativity in my life but hopefully that will all be sorted soon. I will just be happy to be getting back to playing darts without any external worries or stresses. I’ve had an undercurrent in my personal life for far too long now.” Gary Anderson endured a similar slump in form about three years ago following the death of his brother and father within quick succession; such personal tragedy is bound to hit anybody extremely hard, therefore Taylor could be forgiven for being somewhat pre-occupied and off-colour in recent weeks.
- Is Taylor’s form declining, or is the ‘fear factor’ simply diminishing? I say this, because 4-5 years ago, Taylor could potentially afford to produce a few indifferent displays and still be victorious. James Wade and van Barneveld were Taylor’s main challengers within this period, but there wasn’t the same strength in depth within the PDC that there is today. The recent domination enjoyed by Michael van Gerwen and the emergence of Gary Anderson as a major contender has caused the ‘aura’ around Taylor to gradually erode. Players have seen that he’s beatable, which has enhanced their belief. This is reflected in some of the performances produced against Taylor over the last 12 months or so.
The only element of Taylor’s game that has become more susceptible is his inconsistency on the D8/D16 segments. This arguably cost Taylor the World-Championship against Anderson, where he missed a flurry of key doubles in that area. Over the years; Taylor’s ability to hit a pressure double with his last dart has been unparalleled. However, against MvG, Chisnall and van Barneveld recently, he missed some key doubles, allowing his opponents to capitalise. If he can regain that cutting edge on the checkouts, it will be looking ominous for his fellow challengers.
Taylor opens proceedings tomorrow night as he faces Dave Chisnall. Chizzy came back from 3-0 down to defeat the Stokey 7-4 in Manchester two weeks ago, so it will be interesting to see how Taylor responds. Chisnall was incredible in Sheffield last week; dropping just four legs in defeating Gary Anderson 7-3 and James Wade 7-1. He averaged 107 against the Flying Scotsman and a mere 114.7 against Wade. In terms of current form, the St Helen’s ace looks a likely winner, although Taylor cannot be dismissed; he has made a career out of making people look incredibly foolish.
I believe the opening few legs could dictate the eventual outcome; Chizzy is riding the crest of a wave, whereas the 16-times World Champion is looking rather fragile. If Chisnall establishes an early advantage, his confidence will continue to grow and Taylor may not be able to sustain the high-level of scoring that Chizzy can produce. However, Taylor is renowned for ‘remembering’ previous defeats and enacting revenge against his opponents; every setback appears engrained in his mind, which he subsequently uses as motivation.
Taylor’s second match of the evening is against Stephen Bunting. The Bullet faces Adrian Lewis earlier in the night; therefore their previous games could be a key factor. Bunting was unfortunate to lose 7-5 to Michael van Gerwen last week; the former Lakeside Champion hit some impressive finishes under pressure. But in the decisive last two legs, MvG unleashed a blistering barrage of power scoring that Bunting simply couldn’t match. Taylor coasted to a 7-1 victory over the Bullet in their corresponding fixture in week 3, so the 6-times Premier League champ should be confident of securing victory; particularly given that Bunting has the lowest tournament average of the remaining eight competitors.
Taylor’s four remaining fixtures look increasingly difficult; after his double-header in Aberdeen; he has to face Anderson, van Gerwen, Lewis and Wade, so it’s imperative he records a minimum of two points in the Scottish Isles. Taylor’s Premier League future may well be decided in the Granite City, but his long-term future will certainly not, as his desire to succeed remains ‘rock-solid’.
The next individual major on the PDC calendar is the World Matchplay in July. The Power’s record at the Winter Records is imperious; he shares a special affinity with Blackpool and his winning streak is phenomenal. Taylor has been crowned World Matchplay Champion for seven successive years; the last-time he was beaten at the Winter Gardens was against Terry Jenkins, in 2007.
The long-format suits Taylor perfectly; his level of consistency is frightening; whilst MvG, Lewis, Anderson and Chisnall may be explosive and suited to a shorter-format, Taylor can sustain a 100+ average over 30 legs with consummate ease. He wears his opponent down and when they display signs of vulnerability, he ruthlessly pounces. He was written off prior to last year’s event and proved his doubters wrong, in comprehensive fashion.
He hit a 9-darter in obliterating Michael Smith in the last 16, before despatching World No 1 Michael van Gerwen 18-9 in the final, with a handsome 107.19 average. Would anyone back against Taylor producing similar heroics and claiming his eighth successive Matchplay crown? I certainly wouldn’t. Write off the Power at your peril!