We preview Thursday's Premier League Darts action in Exeter with match-by-match predictions, best bets and a suggested acca.
You'd have thought by week four of the Unibet Premier League Darts season there'd be a couple of players starting to get worried about getting cut adrift - but the fact rock-bottom Michael Smith is only three points behind second sums up how evenly-matched it's been.
With six draws and six scorelines of 7-5 or 7-4, most games have been on a knife edge and in Smith's case he could easily be sitting on three or more points having drawn a game he should have won against Peter Wright and losing to both Michael van Gerwen and Daryl Gurney in his two other matches that went the distance.
On the eve of the UK Open in Minehead, Smith faces winless Raymond van Barneveld, with the other player yet to taste victory, Mensur Suljovic, playing Peter Wright.
This week's 'Contender' is Luke Humphries, who makes his debut against man-of-the-moment Gerwyn Price, while the only player with a 100% record so far - MVG - takes on James Wade and the night's other match is Daryl Gurney against Rob Cross.
Below I run through all the fixtures, complete with head-to-head records, season stats so far, match verdicts, bets and an acca.
Premier League Night Four: Thursday February 28
Click on the odds for more Sky Bet match markets
- TV Coverage: Sky Sports (1900 GMT)
- Format: Maximum of 12 legs
Treble: Cross, Suljovic and Barney at 20.66/1
Four Fold: Price, Cross, Suljovic and Barney at 36.41/1
Draw no bet accas: The above accas at 9.67/1 and 13.93/1 respectively
2019 PL Average: N/A - 98.64
Best Average: N/A - 104.11
Tournament 180s: N/A - 12
Checkout %: N/A - 42.22% (19/45)
High Checkout: N/A - 120
Meetings since start of 2018: 0-0
PDC Titles Since Start of 2018: 0-4
Career Titles: 0-6
At this rate Gerwyn Price will complete his transition from pantomime villain to fan favourite before his three-month suspended sentence expires!
OK, slight exaggeration perhaps, but compared to the crowd abuse and boos he was receiving at the Players Championship Finals and the World Championship, which of course all stemmed from 'that' Grand Slam of Darts final against Gary Anderson, it looks as though a mixture of a little sympathy and his superb performances are winning plenty of fans over.
Also significant is the guts he's showing to still be himself on the oche with his celebrations - which are perfectly fine as long as he doesn't cross the line - rather than be the downbeat version we saw against James Wade in the Masters that followed the body blow of receiving a £21,500 and a three-month suspended sentence.
All these factors - together with his decision to spend less time on social media - has helped him respond in the best possible fashion by making unbeaten start to his second Premier League - including a stirring comeback against Wade last week in which he actually received cheers from the crowd - and even more impressively, winning back-to-back Players Championship titles at the weekend.
Only 12 players before had managed such a feat but few will have done so in such emphatic fashion as he averaged 100+ in 10 of his 14 match wins before sealing his second title with a 170 checkout!
I love redemption stories in sport and while there'll always be a good chunk of supporters who dislike the former rugby player's personality, I feel Price can ride this crest of a wave for quite some time and change many more attitudes towards him.
His opponent on Thursday is the extremely likeable young talent Luke Humphries, who underlined his undeniable potential by reaching the World Championship quarter-final thanks to victories over Stephen Bunting, Dimitri van den Bergh and defending champ Rob Cross.
The 23-year-old from Newbury eventually ran out of stream against Michael Smith and since then has struggled in the six Players Championship events so far this season as he tries to cut it on the senior tour on a regular basis.
Humphries, who won the Development Tour Order of Merit for an unprecedented two years on the trot, will be relishing a return to the big stage and earlier this week said: "When I play on TV it makes me come alive, there's just something about it that makes you focus more, I think that is the same for a lot of the younger players."
I'm very tempted to go with the underdog here but Price is just so hot at the moment and scoring so well that he should have enough.
Instead I'll head to the Match Action market for a bet where you can get 15/8 on there being over 10.5 legs, a high checkout of over 100.5 and more than 4.5 total 180s.
Scoreline prediction: 5-7
Suggested bet: Over 10.5 legs, a high checkout of over 100.5 and more than 4.5 total 180s at 15/8
2019 PL Average: 99.32 - 99.82
Best Average: 100.05 - 103.57
Tournament 180s: 6 - 8
Checkout %: 39.13% (18/46) - 44.12% (15/34)
High Checkout: 140 - 115
Meetings since start of 2018: 3-1
PDC Titles Since Start of 2018: 1-2
Career Titles: 3-7
Last week I tipped Rob Cross to beat Michael van Gerwen but sadly Voltage's performance made that look silly.
Voltage himself branded it his worst display of the season as he averaged just 93, missed four darts at doubles our of six and was fortunate to avoid being the 10th victim of a whitewash in Premier League history.
It's not as if MVG played that well either.
But I feel we can just write that off as just a blip because overall he is producing a good standard of darts right now - on both the floor and the stage - while he's hardly under much pressure with three points already on the board.
He told www.live-darts.com: "I can feel the old Rob Cross returning though, I'm happier in myself. I feel stronger as the weeks go by and more adjusted to life on the road so much."
The Hastings man may not have gone particularly far in either of the weekend's Players Championship events but he averaged high 90s or 100+ in every game and only just lost 6-5 to Dave Chisnall in the last 16 on Saturday before crashing out 6-2 at the hands of Krzysztof Ratajski a round earlier on Sunday despite an average of 104.4.
Daryl Gurney is riding high with two wins in a row and although he was lethal on his doubles against Glen Durrant and scored heavily against Michael Smith you could say he was somewhat fortunate that Bully Boy was not really at the races seven days ago.
His floor form has been pretty poor to say the least this season so I think if the overall trend of performances this season continues in Exeter then they'll only be one winner.
Scoreline prediction: 4-7
Suggested bet: Rob Cross to win at 6/5
2019 PL Average: 98.85 - 95.82
Best Average: 101.07 - 101.56
Tournament 180s: 9 - 8
Checkout %: 40.54% (15/37) - 41.30% (19/46)
High Checkout: 72 - 100
Meetings since start of 2018: 5-1
PDC Titles Since Start of 2018: 2-2
Career Titles: 5-22
Mensur Suljovic might just be getting a few mental demons about the Premier League.
In the Austrian's debut campaign last season he lost his opening three games despite averaging over 100 in two of them and although he bounced back to win the next two - including a 7-1 thrashing of Peter Wright in Leeds - he ended up relegated at Judgement Night.
This year he's two points better off but is still without a win and will be ruing his failure to see off both Chris Dobey and Raymond van Barneveld either side of his sound beating at the hands of MVG.
His floor form has been nothing to write home about but you can say the same about Wright, who has crashed out in the first round of two events this season, including last Sunday, albeit reaching a semi-final in the opener.
Suljovic also has quite a dominant head-to-head record in recent times, winning five of their last six meetings dating back to the start of 2018, and I think he's worth backing to extend this run.
Wright remains unbeaten but was given a scare by underdog Steve Lennon in Dublin last week before escaping with a 7-5 victory while the previous week he stole a draw against Michael Smith seven days after another entertaining sharing of spoils with Rob Cross.
Snakebite isn't currently playing at a level that he sets himself and Suljovic will view this fixture as a good opportunity to maximum points from one of the major players - something he'll need to do if he's to stand a chance of making the top four.
Scoreline prediction: 7-4
Suggested bet: Suljovic to win, score over 1.5 180s and have a checkout of over 80.5 at 11/4
2019 PL Average: 102.05 - 101.31
Best Average: 104.98 - 103.89
Tournament 180s: 10 - 12
Checkout %: 42.86% (21/49) - 47.22% (17/36)
High Checkout: 100 - 129
Meetings since start of 2018: 7-1
PDC Titles Since Start of 2018: 22-2
Career Titles: 120-30
For the first time this season, Michael van Gerwen doesn't head into a Premier League fixture having won another title at the weekend. But that's only because he didn't play in either event.
Having claimed the season-opening Masters for the fifth year in a row, the world champion has won all three of his Premier League games as well as triumphing in two Players Championship tournaments (One and Three) out of four entered before taking last weekend out.
Nevertheless, he'll be the first to admit he's not yet firing on all cylinders, which is ominous when you consider he's averaged above 100 every Thursday night so far and missed two darts for a 7-0 whitewash of Rob Cross last week.
James Wade is obviously known for his strength of timing but he's actually boasting the second highest tournament average so far with 101.36 and joint top of the 180s chart with 12, albeit after just three weeks.
He'll be frustrated at not finishing off Gerwyn Price last week and settling for a draw instead of his second win of the campaign but he'll certainly have no fears of facing MVG.
In a recent interview with Sporting Life Darts, the Machine said: "I don't think the gap is anywhere near as big as what people make it out to be from certain players. Some players collapse and give in before a dart is thrown but there's others who'll play him just like they'd play anyone else."
Wade reached his third TV final in the last six televised titles at the Masters and while he was put to the sword by MVG, he put that down to being "knackered" and not being as used to playing three long matches in one day in recent times, unlike the rampant Dutchman.
Now I'm not going as far to say the Aldershot man will win but the 7/4 available on him with a 2.5 legs start is pretty eye-catching.
Scoreline prediction: 7-5
Suggested bet: James Wade (+2.5 legs) at 7/4
2019 PL Average: 95.34 - 91.86
Best Average: 97.61 - 95.15
Tournament 180s: 12 - 8
Checkout %: 35.56% (16/45) - 38.10% (16/42)
High Checkout: 150 - 104
Head-to-head: 7-7 (1 draw)
Meetings since start of 2018: 2-0 (1 draw)
PDC Titles Since Start of 2018: 3-0
Career Titles: 11-41
Michael Smith was 8/13 to get his first win of the season on Thursday night before the news broke that he'd undergone emergency surgery on an abscess earlier this week.
Smith told Live Darts: "I'm not sure how I will be. I'm on painkillers and antibiotics. I've got strapping round my leg and groin which has to be changed every day to protect it from further infection. It's been a tough start to the Premier League. My leg hasn't really helped to be honest.
"It's been there for six weeks and bugging me a bit and stressing me out. I should have just got it checked earlier. I was just being a bloke and not getting it checked, thinking it will heal itself."
Despite these revealing quotes, his odds have only drifted slightly to 8/11 and I can't help but think the bookies are underestimating the issue here.
Some might say I'm making a mountain out of a molehill here but if his leg has secretly been bothering him and causing a dip in form - both on the floor and the stage - then surely he won't be back to full throttle just a few days after surgery and still on painkillers?
We're talking about a game of fine margins and while it's nothing like Adam Smith-Neale playing on crutches at the Lakeside, it's already been enough to knock him off his stride - especially after a January in which he didn't practice as much as usual due to his honeymoon.
This all said, he's still been averaging consistently higher than Raymond van Barneveld, who has produced two memorable comebacks to thrill darts fans the world over and give his fans a little hope that he could sneak into the top four.
While the atmosphere created from his draws with Gerwyn Price and Mensur Suljovic in Glasgow and Dublin respectively justified his inclusion in the Premier League field, he must to improve his performances sharpish and not keep leaving himself mountains to climb.
The Dutch legend's form in the four Players Championship events he's entered won't have given him any encouragement - going no further than the last 64 in any of them - but he does at least come to life on this occasions and the crowd are clearly inspiring him.
On advice from my local doctor, I'm going with Barney in this one.
Scoreline prediction: 4-7
Suggested bet: Raymond van Barneveld to win at 11/4
2019 Premier League Darts Table
- MVG P 3 W 3 D 0 L 0 LegD +11 Pts 6
- Gurney P 3 W 2 D 0 L 1 LegD +3 Pts 4
- Price P 3 W 1 D 2 L 0 LegD +3 Pts 4
- Wright P 3 W 1 D 2 L 0 LegD +2 Pts 4
- Wade P 3 W 1 D 1 L 1 LegD 0 Pts 3
- Cross P 3 W 1 D 1 L 1 LegD -2 Pts 3
- Van Barneveld P 3 W 0 D 2 L 1 LegD -3 Pts 2
- Suljovic P 3 W 0 D 2 L 1 LegD -4 Pts 2
- Smith P 3 W 0 D 1 L 2 LegD -4 Pts 1