Last night ended up a big upset as Preliminary Round winner Kevin Munch defeated my pick Adrian Lewis 3-1.
The left-handed German was immense with eight 180s and checkouts of 118, 124 & 158 on his way to land the shock.
It was a good night for the bets! John Henderson took out a 160 to land the Over 106.5 bet at 10/11 for him.
While in Barney vs North, we saw North hit three 180s in the first two sets to land the 5/6 on Over 2.5 180s from him plus he won the maximum count 4-3 for the 11/4 on North Most 180s too, so, all in all, a very good night.
Michael Smith vs Steve Lennon
Michael Smith has enjoyed a much better 12-months than those previous and he’s putting himself in contention for a challenge at these majors.
He was back to his power scoring best during the Grand Slam of Darts hitting 15 180s in his four games with 11 of those in a short ‘best of 9’ format.
‘Bully Boy’ nearly topped his group but lost in a deciding leg to Mensur Suljovic and that game saw the St Helens slinger end with his worst checkout percentage of those three games, which shows you the pressure those top players put on you.
In the Last 16 of that event, he gave as good as he could but he faced an inspired mentor in Gary Anderson, who finished with a near 107 average and a high out of 164.
If Smith plays here like he did in Wolverhampton then he isn’t one to underestimate but those performances are too infrequent but I’m hoping he can deliver some of the promise that saw him so highly regarded a few years ago.
Steve Lennon earned a two-year two card back in January and he’s made a decent impression in his first season on the circuit.
Similar to Smith, the Irishman had a good Grand Slam reaching the Last 16 after finishing second in his group ahead of Gerwyn Price and the BDO’s Jamie Hughes.
Across his three group games, he had solid averages ranging from 94.74 to 100.2. His action is smooth and fluent, so that shouldn’t let him down.
The thing that impressed me most was his finishing. He was clinical on two-dart finishes especially and his finishing stats weren’t too shabby with a tournament checkout success rate of nearly 42%.
It’ll be those combinations that he’ll have to take to trouble Smith here and we know ‘Bully Boy’ can miss a few darts at a double, so that’s where Lennon will have to step in and punish him.
I do think both players here win a set, especially given Smith’s record in the first round. He’s won his last four matches and has dropped a set – he’s won two games 3-1 and two matches 3-2.
Lennon is a competent player who won’t be fazed by his World Championship debut but Smith should have too much firepower for him, so Smith to Win & Both Players to Win a Set (19/20).
Then the other angle has to be Smith 180s. His last four first-round matches dating back to 2013 have had 1, 9, 6 & 7 180s.
The solitary one came in a 3-1 win over Morihiro Hashimoto in 2013 then the other three figures just prove ‘Bully Boy’s’ capabilities around the T20 bed.
Unsurprisingly the bookies have the Smith 180 market about right with over 4.5 odds-on but that is a solid option for any accas. I don’t mind Smith Over 5.5 180s (5/4) because he’s shown more than capable of achieving it and with me feeling Lennon takes a set it’ll mean more legs for the maximums to flow.
Simon Whitlock vs Martin Schindler
Martin Schindler is a talented youngster coming through the ranks in Germany and he has the game to cause Simon Whitlock a few problems here.
The German is only 21-years-old and he has a fine future ahead of him if keeping his head down and putting in the vital hours on the practice board.
He had a good run to the Quarter-Final stage of the Austrian Darts Open in June when defeating Ian White along the way and throughout the event, he played some solid darts.
Even in defeat to MvG, he averaged 95.66 despite losing 6-1, a scoreline that was harsh on him.
‘The Wall’ has a solid throwing style but can occasionally throw a stray dart into the single 1’s or 5’s but the thing is, he always regains composure and rectifies it with his next dart.
It is his debut here at Alexandra Palace, but he’s got plenty of TV experience under his belt, representing Germany in the World Cup, plus on the European Tour, so he will pose a threat to his Aussie opponent.
Simon Whitlock has made somewhat of a comeback this year after a quiet time and a result has climbed back up to eight in the PDC Order of Merit.
That climb was helped by reaching the World Grand Prix Final after a couple of good events on the European Tour.
His path in Dublin wasn’t the trickiest with the event decimated by early exits and withdrawals. He did ease past Benito van de Pas before seeing off Mensur Suljovic in the Semi-Final.
‘The Wizard’ has plenty of experience on this stage and he’ll look to make that count against the debutant. Last year saw him reach the second round for the first time in a couple of attempts after falling at the first hurdle.
He’ll have to be on his mettle here so that he doesn’t become another seed to fall early on.
The problem with the Aussie is that he is hit or miss. He can be ruthless on his finishing that’ll win him games or he’ll miss plenty of chances, which therefore breaks him mentally and allows his opponent to step-in and clean up.
One thing that should land here is Whitlock Highest Checkout for anyone wanting to put up something solid in a double/treble. When on-song he’s one of the best with three darts in hand and Schindler is better in mopping up outshots up to around the 90 mark.
I do think there is some scope to back Schindler to win this or even on the +1.5 handicap because he’s a talented player who’ll jump on any error from Whitlock. He’s got plenty of confidence and the occasion won’t get to him, so those look fine, as does the Schindler to Win, Score Over 1.5 180s and Checkout Over 81.5 (3/1 – Sky Bet).
Two maximums are something he’ll be capable of in a game that is likely to see four or more sets plus I’ve spoken about his capability on the finishing with 90 and 117 finishes in the European Darts Trophy in October.
Justin Pipe will face either Bernie Smith or Xiao Chen Zong in the first round.
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