A Thorn worth siding with
Ben Coley previews this week's Premier League darts action from Cardiff's Motorpoint Arena.
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Venue: Cardiff Indoor Arena
2012 overall average: 96.21
2012 highest checkout: 160 (Lewis)
2011 overall average: 96.88
2011 highest checkout: 141 (Wade)
2010 overall average: 94.31
2010 highest checkout: 124 (Baxter)
Odds-against both players to start the night and what a match we have in prospect. Both Hamilton and Whitlock have really struck form of late, the former beating Taylor twice in a week including in the last round of Premier League fixtures, and Whitlock having once more advertised his tenacity in two intense victories over Newton and Wade. So, what gives? Well, history gives Whitlock the edge, although their three Premier League meetings show a win for each and a draw. For me the match is too hard to call at the prices, despite a small temptation to side with Hamilton and the draw at a shade of odds-on given that he may never quite have been this hot before. Instead, though, the best value could be Whitlock to register more 180s than his opponent at evens. Although both men are hitting the treble 20 with increasing regularity, Whitlock averages one more than his opponent over the last four weeks and also registered more than Hamilton in each of their last two Premier League clashes. Last week's tally of two may not be enough but he'd registered four and six in the weeks prior and that would take care of business. However, all things considered this looks one to watch and admire two of the toughest players on the circuit.
Anderson returns to the Motorpoint for the first time since 2011, having been forced to miss last year's event due to a family bereavement. He'll be hoping he can produce the fireworks that saw him beat Wade 8-6 in an absolute thriller two years ago, one in which he registered an average of 101.53 and hit six 180s. He may well need them, as van Gerwen himself averaged a very similar number in beating Newton last week. That being said, there were real moments of concern for van Gerwen in that match and against a more ruthless opponent he may have been in real trouble. Anderson, of course, was uncharacteristically ruthless against Taylor a fortnight ago and it was hard not to be impressed by his 10-dart leg to secure a point against Lewis last week. With that in mind there is some temptation to take on the 8/15 favourite, but the best way to do so looks to be in the highest finish market. Paddy Power and Coral offer 5/6 that van Gerwen's highest checkout is under 101.5, a spread which looks very high given that his high finishes this season read 87, 54, 64, 54, 104 and 52. That 104 came way back in week two and while scoring should be high in this match, checkouts may not be. I'd have thought the right spread for van Gerwen's checkout would be around 96.5.
This is priced almost as a pick 'em, with Lewis narrowly favoured having gone unbeaten in two weeks. He'll have his work cut out here though as Thornton has taken to the format like a duck to water and will be full of confidence after a UK Open qualifier success at the weekend. We saw last week via Hamilton's demolition of Taylor that momentum gained in-between Premier League matches can be carried forwards onto the big stage and that's one of the reasons I really like Thornton at 6/4 here. The Scot was annihilated by Wade a fortnight ago but The Machine produced an unbeatable display, and Thornton showed defeat hadn't damaged his confidence with a stunning fightback - including a tops-tops finish - to take a point off leader van Barneveld last week. His average was a very solid 98.78, he hit almost 50 per cent of his doubles and a similar performance should make him hard to beat against a player who can beat himself anyway. Suffice to say, I'm still not convinced by Lewis whose averages aren't of the standard we expect. He lost 8-4 to Hamilton on this stage last year and with Thornton having beaten Lewis when last they met, I think he should be favourite on balance.
Defeat here could see Newton resigned to the bottom of the standings but he faces the only other player in the league to arrive in Cardiff on the back of successive defeats. Taylor's switch to a new, slimmer set of arrows hasn't quite worked out yet and it was disconcerting to see him so easily distracted by the crowd last week, to the extent that he's very dangerous betting material even against an opponent he's dominated over the years. One thing that's worth noting where Newton is concerned is the improvement in his scoring. He managed two 10-dart finishes last week and started what proved to be the final leg with a pair of 180s only to allow van Gerwen in through the back door. His averages reflect this improvement and BetVictor's under/over spread of 94.5 looks on the low side, although 4/5 about over isn't quite tempting enough. Similarly, I'd expect him to land more 180s than Taylor given the champ's struggles and the fact that Newton is averaging 3.5 a game over the last month, but he's been made evens favourite and there's no great rush to take that price. All in all, with the obvious possibility that Taylor finds his range but most of the value with Newton, this is a game to avoid.
The best is saved 'til last. Wade's three-match unbeaten run may have come to an end against Whitlock last week, but he still landed three 100-plus checkouts including a stunning 170 to show that the practice he's putting in really is paying off. Barney will feel he should've extended his lead in the table having led 4-2 and 6-4 against Thornton, but four wins, a draw and a defeat to van Gerwen see him deservedly leading the standings and favourite to win this. Fireworks seem virtually assured and something along the lines of their two meetings in the competition last year - one of which went Wade's way 8-6 while the other saw them draw 7-7 - seems very likely. The obvious port of call for a punt is to rely on Wade's ruthless finishing. He has no fewer than five 100-plus finishes in his last two matches and back in week three was the width of a wire away from a 140 checkout against Lewis. When beating Barneveld in Brighton last year he managed two 100-plus checkouts followed by a 95 in their second meeting, and 5/6 about him landing something over 98.5 looks more than fair. For his part, Barney landed a 161 checkout in their last PL meeting and if we ignore last week's high of 40, he's been producing some finishing fireworks too. I'd still favour Wade to land the highest checkout of the match at odds-against but 21/20 isn't quite big enough for a wager so it's no bet.