Taylor warms up for Barney battle
The PDC's media officer, Dave Allen, previews week four of the Premier League Darts from Belfast. The image is courtesy of Lawrence Lustig/PDC.
The world's top two players, Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld, will clash for the first time this season as the Whyte & Mackay Premier League Darts visit the Westpoint Arena in Exeter on Thursday night.
The game between the players, who share 20 World Championship titles, will be the highest profile of four matches in Exeter as the Premier League returns to the south-west.
Taylor has been victorious in his last nine meetings with van Barneveld since suffering a 10-9 defeat in the 2008 UK Open, and the 15-time World Champion has also won his first three games in this year's Premier League.
Van Barneveld, meanwhile, has suffered losses to inspired displays by Adrian Lewis and Simon Whitlock since defeating James Wade on the opening night at The O2 in London.
The Dutchman has continued to change the flights of his darts in a bid to settle on a winning formula in recent weeks, and Taylor believes he is also suffering from not competing each weekend in PDC ProTour events.
"He's frustrated at the minute and he's trying his best to turn it around," said Taylor. "If he beats me it will build his confidence up.
"The rest of the pack have caught him up and he needs to find a way to get better, and that's what he's doing.
"He will pick the right set of darts and will settle down but I don't know what's going through Raymond's mind.
"He's not doing the circuit so I think he needs a little bit more match practice to sharpen his game up - he's only having one bite at the cherry each week instead of also playing a few games at the weekend."
Another player facing a crucial night in Exeter is James Wade, the defending champion who has lost his opening three matches this season and could find himself cut adrift at the foot of the table should he lose to Adrian Lewis.
"Last year I had a slow start, although not as bad as this, but it's up to me to turn it around," said Wade.
"I've made it hard for myself with my performances and hopefully this week I will turn up and play my best darts."
Lewis' win over van Barneveld, when he powered to an 8-3 victory, remains his only victory so far this season, and he added: "All I can look at is beating James and moving up the table.
"If I can win and keep him bottom then that's good for me, because my aim is to qualify in the top four. I'm going to be putting a lot of work in to make sure I'm ready for him."
Unbeaten Terry Jenkins, who has picked up a win and two draws in the opening weeks, takes on Mervyn King at the Westpoint Arena, with the 2009 runner-up looking to bounce back from suffering his first loss of the campaign a week ago.
The night's other game sees two players who produced their best displays of the season last week in Belfast clash, when Ronnie Baxter faces Australian Simon Whitlock.
Baxter took out a 164 checkout in the deciding leg of an 8-6 win over King, while Whitlock hit eight from nine attempts at a double in his 8-5 defeat of van Barneveld.
"The more weeks I get under my belt, the better I seem to be playing," said Whitlock, the Ladbrokes.com World Darts Championship runner-up. "My form's coming back now, which is good for me.
"I'm getting more confidence too, especially after Belfast. My finishing was great but I know I can score better so I'll try and work on that."