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Play-off race hots up

Simon-Whitlock

 

Must-win night for Jenkins and van Barneveld

The race to qualify for the Whyte & Mackay Premier League play-offs intensifies, as the tournament visits the Liverpool Echo Arena on Thursday, on a night which includes a rematch of the Ladbrokes.com World Darts Championship final.

The 11th of 14 league nights is likely to prove instrumental in the race for players to secure spots in the top four to compete in May's play-offs at Wembley.

While Phil Taylor, who is unbeaten so far this year, has already booked his top four finish, the other seven competitors are all still chasing a play-off place.

The league's bottom two players, Terry Jenkins and Raymond van Barneveld, have to win in Liverpool if they are to keep their hopes alive, but the evening could end with five players tied on 11 points in second place.

Mervyn King, Ronnie Baxter and Simon Whitlock have already reached that total, while reigning champion James Wade and Adrian Lewis are sat on nine points.

The night opens when Baxter faces Jenkins, who ended a six-game losing run by defeating Lewis 8-5 in Sheffield a week ago.

"Ronnie's had a good season and deserves to be in the top four at the moment but this is my chance," said Jenkins. "It's a relief to have won last week.

Belief

"I've been through these patches two or three times before and as long as you believe in yourself your form always comes back."

Wade faces van Barneveld in the night's second game, before Lewis meets King, who drew with Baxter in Sheffield a week ago.

"Any points are gratefully accepted at the moment," admitted King. "It will be a hard game against Adrian because he's played well this season."

The night's final fixture sees a re-match of January's World Championship final between Phil Taylor and Simon Whitlock, which saw the Stoke legend come from 2-1 down to win 7-3.

Whitlock's previous Premier League meeting with Taylor came on the opening night at The O2 in London, when the Australian lost 8-3 on a disappointing debut in the tournament.

"That was awful for me," said Whitlock, who has won three of his last four games as well as Players Championships on successive weekends.

Heel problem

"I only got back here from Australia two days before the first game and my heel problem meant I didn't really practice for the best part of a month.

"I went up there with no form but his time around I'm feeling a lot better, and it's a confident and in-form Simon."

Taylor drew with Wade at the Sheffield Arena last week, coming from 7-4 down to grab a point, and he is expecting another tight contest this time around - having lost to Whitlock in a Players Championship on Saturday.

"Simon's playing brilliantly at the moment, probably as well as he ever has," said Taylor. "His game has improved massively since the opening week and I know it will be a tough match.

"His finishing is fantastic and he takes his chances, so I know I've got to be on top of my game on Thursday."

22nd April 2010, 12:07
 
Page updated 22nd Apr 2010, 12:07
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