THE destiny of the 2014 Betway Premier League Darts title will be decided on Thursday night, as Michael van Gerwen, Raymond van Barneveld, Phil Taylor and Gary Anderson do battle in the Play-Offs at The O2 in London.

Premier League Darts

Reigning Premier League Darts champion van Gerwen topped the league table following the 15-week season, finishing four points clear of van Barneveld, Taylor and Anderson.

Taylor, a six-time Premier League champion, overcame a rocky start to be unbeaten in his final 11 matches as he moved from tenth to third in the table.

2011 champion Anderson, meanwhile, was unbeaten in his last seven games as he edged out Peter Wright to claim fourth spot, as he bids to win back the title he claimed three years ago at Wembley.

Anderson, however, takes on World Champion van Gerwen in Thursday’s opening semi-final at The O2, with the Dutchman in confident mood after heading the league table for a second successive year.

“To win the table again means a lot but I worked hard for it and it’s paid off,” said van Gerwen, the 7/5 favourite with sponsors Betway. “Now it’s knockout and you can’t afford to rely on what’s happened in previous weeks, you have to play well on the night.

“I also finished top last year and won the Play-Offs so maybe it will help me this year, but I just need to play well on the night – it doesn’t matter if you finished as number one or number four.

“I’m probably more consistent than last year and I want to keep this going and make sure I play well in the Play-Offs.

“I know I’m the favourite, but Gary is a great player and I have to make sure I don’t make any mistakes and give him a chance to finish his doubles.

“We always have great battles between us, and I know if I play my best then I’m going to beat him. I’ve shown everyone I can win the tournament last year, but I’ve still got a lot of work to do this time.”

Anderson lost out to van Gerwen in the World Championship in December – letting a 3-1 lead slip as he went down 4-3 in a defeat which he admits has fuelled his resurgence so far in 2014, with four ranking victories seeing him return to the world’s top 16.

He also went down 7-5 when the pair met in the league phase in Leeds in March, before claiming a 7-4 victory over the Dutchman in Birmingham three weeks ago.

“Losing to Michael at the World Championship really was a kick up the backside for me and I’ve had a good year so far,” said Anderson. “It’s not revenge – I’m not worried about any of these boys.

“Michael’s a great talent, but he’s got to beat me. I’m not going to buckle against him and he’s going to have to have the game of his life, and if he doesn’t he’s out.

“People will have Michael down as favourite to win the title, but I’m looking at being in the final. There’s no tactics, it’s just darts; go up there, hit the big scores and take the finishes out and let him worry about it.

“I’m going up there to play my game, and when my darts go then it looks easy – but when they don’t go then I’ve got a problem and got to work on it, but they’re going at the moment.”

The other semi-final sees great rivals van Barneveld and Taylor face off for the second successive year in the Play-Offs.

Van Barneveld finished second in the league table for a second successive year, with his challenge aided by a 12-game unbeaten run during the league season.

However, the five-time World Champion has never won past the semi-finals in six previous Premier League Play-Off tilts, and has also never previously defeated Taylor on the Premier League stage.

“I’ve worked really hard this year and it’s paid off for me so far, and to I’m very happy to have reached the Play-Offs,” said van Barneveld.

“I finished second last year as well, and in a field this strong with the best players in the world that says a lot about your form and shows that you can live with the best players in the world.

“It would be great to reach the final but it’s not really in my mind that I’ve lost six semi-finals before. I’m thinking of winning this now and Phil will have to play his best darts, because if he doesn’t then I’ll be there, ready to beat him.

“To win the Premier League is a dream. I was focusing on this week and picturing myself lifting the trophy and it would be amazing to do it.

“If you believe then you can achieve anything, and I have a lot of belief in my game at the moment and I’m looking forward to the Play-Offs.”

Taylor, last year’s beaten finalist as he went down to van Gerwen at The O2, has won six previous Premier League Darts titles and bounced back from losing four of his opening five games to be unbeaten in his last 11 matches this season.

“Even though I’m unbeaten for 11 weeks, I’m a bit disappointed with my form,” admitted Taylor, the 3/2 second favourite with Betway. “With a few of the draws I had chances to win, but that’s done now and I’ve been preparing really well for Thursday.

“I’ve got to go up there and produce the goods on Thursday night and I’ve been working really hard – but the Premier League’s a marathon, not a sprint, and I always said for people not to judge me at the start of the year but at the end.

“I’ve been trying everything I can to improve myself and that’s about my lifestyle too, which is important when you get to the Play-Offs and there are two games, so you’ve got to keep your energy levels up.

“It’s been the best Premier League ever and I’m really excited, and I think the semi-finals line-up will be great for the game.

“Barney and me have a great history, but it doesn’t make a scrap of difference what happened with him in previous years, this is a new game. The other semi-final will be a cracker too because Gary’s really on form at the minute.

“He’s come under the radar again and he’s a bit sneaky because he says he’s not bothered and then you watch him practising like mad and playing well on stage! I love watching him and that will be a great game against Michael, so it’s set up nicely.”

Van Gerwen has been the favourite to take the £150,000 Betway Premier League Darts title throughout the season, with Taylor now the 3/2 second favourite after moving out to 5/1 in the betting following the opening five games.

Anderson is 7/1 to take glory on Thursday after being 33/1 pre-event, while van Barneveld’s odds have changed from 28/1 in February to 8/1 going into Thursday’s Play-Offs.

The Betway Premier League Darts final at The O2 will be preceded by the PDC Unicorn World Youth Championship final, as two stars of the future take to the stage to compete for a £10,000 first prize.

Isle of Wight ace Keegan Brown, who reached his first senior final on the PDC ProTour at a Players Championship recently, will be taking on Austria’s Rowby-John Rodriguez in the game, with the pair having won through from 64 players who competed in the early rounds in Reading in March.

The pair only have to look at van Gerwen’s rise since losing out to Arron Monk and James Hubbard in two World Youth Championship finals for inspiration, while reigning World Youth Champion Michael Smith followed up last year’s win over Ricky Evans at The O2 by knocking Taylor out of the PDC World Championship in December.

Tickets for the Betway Premier League Darts Play-Offs are still available from The O2 by calling 0844 856 0202 or online through www.axs.com.

Betway Premier League Darts

Play-Offs May 22, The O2, London (7pm)
Semi-Finals
Michael van Gerwen v Gary Anderson
Raymond van Barneveld v Phil Taylor
Best of 15 Legs

PDC Unicorn World Youth Championship Final
Keegan Brown v Rowby-John Rodriguez
Best of 11 Legs

Betway Premier League Darts Final
van Gerwen/Anderson v van Barneveld/Taylor
Best of 19 Legs

Tickets: 0844 856 0202 or www.axs.com

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