Wright ready to make Premier League play-off debut

BIG NIGHT: Peter Wright. Picture: Lawrence Lustig

BIG NIGHT: Peter Wright. Picture: Lawrence Lustig

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Phil Taylor is targeting the perfect ending to his final Betway Premier League season by claiming his seventh title in Thursday’s Play-Offs, with Michael van Gerwen, Gary Anderson and Mendham’s Peter Wright also chasing the £250,000 first prize at The O2 in London.

Taylor, 56, will compete in his final night of Premier League action at The O2 as he heads towards retirement at the start of 2018, bringing the curtain down on the most successful career in the event’s history.

The champion for the first four years of the Premier League from 2005-2008, Taylor also won the 2010 and 2012 titles to take his tally of victories to six.

Despite those years of dominance, Taylor has lost out to Van Gerwen in two finals since - most recently last year at The O2 - and enters this year’s Play-Offs as the 11/1 outsider with sponsors Betway.

He faces world number three Wright in their semi-final, but is in relaxed mood as he chases a seventh Premier League title.

“Getting into the top four has been the aim all year so I’m delighted to have got through and I’d love to go on and win this now, but there’s no pressure on me,” said Taylor.

“Peter’s been in brilliant form all year so I know what to expect, but this is his first time in the semi-finals so I don’t know how he’s feeling.

“I’ve approached the whole season in the same way and I’ll go up there to enjoy myself. It would be fantastic if I could win this title again, the perfect way to finish in the Premier League.”

In contrast, Wright will be making his first appearance in the play-offs, having finished in fifth position twice in his previous three Premier League challenges.

However, the Scot is in confident mood after winning seven tournaments so far in 2017, including his first televised title at March’s UK Open.

“I’ve been close to the Play-Offs before but I’ve made it this time, and I want to go and win the Premier League now,” said Wright. “I’ve seen these great guys win it in recent years and I want to be one of those great guys too.

“To be in the top four alongside Phil, Michael and Gary is immense and I’m really happy with how the season has gone.

“I’m still learning and there are times this year that I’ve changed things to improve too. I’ve learned a lot over the years and I know how to beat people now, especially Michael because he’s the man we all want to beat.

“You have to believe in your own ability and that what you do on the practice board you can do on the stage against him and anyone else in the world.”

The other semi-final sees a repeat of January’s World Championship final - and two other TV deciders in the past year - between the world’s top two ranked players, Van Gerwen and Anderson.

Reigning Premier League champion Van Gerwen topped the league table for a fifth successive regular season with his 7-4 win over Anderson in Aberdeen last week, and is now aiming to claim his third title at The O2.

“It’s time for business now,” said Van Gerwen, the 4/7 odds-on favourite with Betway. “I feel good and I know I’m playing well - I had a good game when I had to play well last against Gary and I have to do the same tomorrow night.

“They know what they have to do to beat me if they want to win the tournament, but I need to make sure I hold them off by playing some good darts and putting them under pressure.

“It’s four good players and you can’t let them have a sniff of the trophy, because if you give them a finger they will take your hand. I want to win the trophy again and it would be really special if I can.”

Anderson, meanwhile, is aiming to follow up his 2011 and 2015 Premier League triumphs by completing his own hat-trick.

“It would be nice to win it again and if I play well I’ve got a good chance,” said Anderson, who finished fourth in the league table but had the second-highest tournament average, behind Van Gerwen.

“You’ve got to beat everyone that’s in front of you and whoever turns up on the night is going to walk away with the trophy.

“It’s always going to be hard anyway but it’s going to be interesting because it’s Phil’s last, it’s Peter’s first time here and both me and Michael have won it twice, so it’s all to play for.”