Welsh number one Gerwyn Price will make his homecoming in front of a sell-out crowd at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena on Night Three of the Premier League, as ‘challenger’ Jonny Clayton prepares to make his tournament bow on a bumper night of action.
Grand Slam champion Price is up against last year’s semi-finalist Gurney, who is rooted to the foot of the table, whilst Clayton locks horns with 2018 finalist Smith, who is searching for his first victory of this year’s showpiece.
Elsewhere, Michael van Gerwen aims to make it three wins from three when he plays UK Open champion Nathan Aspinall, two-time winner Gary Anderson meets debutant Glen Durrant, whilst Peter Wright and Rob Cross kick off proceedings in a battle of the world champions.
Peter Wright vs Rob Cross
World champion Wright is still searching for his first win in this year’s competition although he couldn’t have asked for a tougher start, with Van Gerwen, Anderson and now Cross his first three opponents. He’s yet to beat ‘Voltage’ in four previous Premier League appearances. Is tonight the night?
The Scot was struggling with an ankle injury in Nottingham last Thursday but still salvaged a battling point against his World Cup partner Anderson, despite averaging a modest 88. However, he performed well in the Pro Tour double-header in Wigan, reaching back-to-back semi-finals.
Cross has gone under the radar thus far. His form coming into this year’s tournament was concerning but he’s accumulated three points despite playing nowhere near his best. That’s testament to his resolve which augurs well in his bid to secure a third consecutive top-four finish.
I’m reluctant to back against Cross as I’ve tipped him for defeat in his last two outings and he remains unbeaten, yet ‘Snakebite’ is looking more convincing despite trailing ‘Voltage’ by two points. Wright won their most recent outing 10-3 at the Grand Slam, though I expect this to be far closer.
Prediction: Wright 7-5 Cross
Jonny Clayton vs Michael Smith
Clayton could make history by becoming the first ‘challenger’ to defeat a Premier League player, whilst Smith is eyeing his first victory of this year’s roadshow, having relinquished a 6-2 cushion against Price last week – despite ‘Bully Boy’ averaging 116 after eight legs.
Smith faced Price in Cardiff last year so he’ll be under no illusions about the partisan atmosphere that awaits him, but how will Clayton fare? The world No 16 is the highest ranked of this year’s challengers and he has big stage pedigree, evidenced by his recent Masters triumph against Van Gerwen.
Nevertheless, the Welshman’s televised performances fluctuate from sublime to mediocre. He’s capable of posting mammoth averages particularly over a relatively short format, yet he’s also susceptible to producing equally insipid displays.
I believe the opening four or five legs could dictate proceedings. Clayton boasts the necessary scoring power and is a proficient combination finisher, but I think Smith’s Premier League experience could prove decisive in another contest that could go the distance.
Prediction: Clayton 4-7 Smith
Michael van Gerwen vs Nathan Aspinall
New darts? No problem! Normal service has certainly been resumed for Van Gerwen following his shock early exit at the Masters. The defending champion has silenced any lingering doubters by boasting the only 100% record in this year’s event, with a tournament average of 104.59.
The Dutchman is desperate to equal Phil Taylor’s record of topping the league phase for eight straight years, although his Pro Tour performances have been uninspiring. He was beaten in the final of Players Championship 3 on Saturday, as his wait for a first ranking title of 2020 continues.
That’s in stark contrast to Aspinall, who has impressed on the Pro Tour without catching fire in the Premier League. ‘The Asp’ performed superbly to land his fourth PDC title just over a week ago, but he suffered a narrow defeat to Cross in Nottingham despite outplaying him for large periods.
Aspinall has visibly struggled with his grip in the early stages of this event and whilst I expect him to rectify this issue, I think it may be in a losing cause against MvG. The world No 1 ran out a 6-3 winner in December’s World Championship semi-final and I foresee a similar outcome in Cardiff.
Prediction: Van Gerwen 7-4 Aspinall
Daryl Gurney vs Gerwyn Price
It’s only the third night of action although this could have significant repercussions for both players. Gurney is the only player in the field yet to open his Premier League account although the scheduling hasn’t been kind. Having faced Anderson in Aberdeen, he now plays Price on his home turf.
‘The Iceman’ has shared the spoils against Cross and Smith in his opening fixtures and he’s no stranger to Premier League stalemates. This arguably cost him a play-off spot last year although on this occasion he’s salvaging points from losing positions which should provide encouragement.
The world No 3 is yet to recapture the sparkling form that he produced towards the latter stages of 2019, which saw him retain his Grand Slam crown and reach two further major finals, but he’ll be confident of registering his first win of 2020 against the Northern Irishman.
Price leads the pair’s head-to-head record 9-3 and he’s unbeaten in his three Premier League meetings with ‘Super Chin’ – albeit two of those encounters were drawn. However, Gurney’s indifferent form has extended to the Pro Tour circuit and he’s displaying plenty of vulnerability at present.
Prediction: Gurney 5-7 Price
Glen Durrant vs Gary Anderson
The pair both endured frustrating stalemates in Nottingham following opening night wins. Anderson was unable to overcome his under-par World Cup partner Wright, whilst Durrant recovered from 6-4 down and claimed a point against Sherrock in spite of a profligate display.
Durrant has developed a reputation for being one of the most clinical finishers in world darts, only to convert just 26% of his attempts at double against Sherrock. He refused to attribute this to the hostile atmosphere in Nottingham, yet he seemingly lacked composure midway through the tie.
Anderson has shown tangible signs of a resurgence in 2020, reaching the semi-finals at the Masters, winning his first individual title since September 2018 on the Pro Tour and claiming three points from his first two fixtures. He’s not functioning at his blistering best yet, though the signs are positive.
‘The Flying Scotsman’ is without question the more prolific scorer, but Durrant’s combination finishing within the 70-120 range has been unrivalled over recent months. It should be a fascinating contrast of styles and I’m backing both men to remain unbeaten following Night Three.
Prediction: Durrant 6-6 Anderson
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
2020 Unibet Premier League
Thursday February 20
Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff
Peter Wright v Rob Cross
Jonny Clayton v Michael Smith
Michael van Gerwen v Nathan Aspinall
Daryl Gurney v Gerwyn Price
Glen Durrant v Gary Anderson