Premier League Darts 2021: Debutants Jonny Clayton and Dimitri Van den Bergh collide for top spot

The Premier League is renowned for making and breaking darting careers in equal measure. Debutants Jonny Clayton and Dimitri Van den Bergh appear to fall in the former category however, as they lead the way following the opening five nights of action.

In October, Glen Durrant and Nathan Aspinall contested the 2020 Premier League final – the first time two newcomers had battled it out for the title since the tournament’s inception in 2005.

There are plenty of darts to be thrown before we can contemplate a similar scenario involving this year’s protagonists, as just three points separate the top nine players in an incredibly-condensed table.

The signs are extremely positive, though. Fresh from landing their maiden televised titles during the last 12 months, Clayton and Van den Bergh possess the necessary pedigree, and all the indications suggest their top-of-the-table clash on Night Six will be one to savour.

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Clayton riding the crest of a wave

Clayton boasts a slender one point lead over ‘The DreamMaker’ heading into Monday night, and the Welshman’s performances throughout the first phase justify his current status as the form man in world darts.

Despite this, there is a certain irony to his inclusion. The 46-year-old was awarded the 10th and final spot courtesy of his triumph at the Masters – a tournament he was not eligible for until the PDC extended the field from 16 to 24 players.

The rest as they say is history. ‘The Ferret’ is the only man with three victories to his name across the opening five nights, he landed a spectacular nine-darter on Night Three against Jose De Sousa, and he boasts a 100.90 tournament average – the highest in this year’s event.

“You dream of having a start like this for a first attempt in such a big tournament, so I’m one happy Welshman,” Clayton reflected in his post-match press conference following Night Five.

“I would have taken three points! It’s a dream. On Monday against Peter (Wright) I think I should have had two points there so it could have been a bit better, but I’ve got seven points and it’s massive.”

Clayton is not the only one living his darting dream. Van den Bergh has been touted as a future Premier League player since bursting onto the scene, and he has underlined his credentials with a series of superb performances in Milton Keynes.

Dimitri living the dream

The 26-year-old was unbeaten after four nights, defeating Aspinall and Durrant, while sharing the spoils with Michael van Gerwen and Peter Wright. He relinquished top spot following defeat to the enigmatic De Sousa on Night Five, but this has not dampened his spirits.

“It’s the first time I’m competing as a full Premier League player and it’s an amazing experience,” he told the Darts Show podcast.

“I’m one of those that thinks hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work hard and that’s always something I take with me.”

Van den Bergh discusses his work-ethic…

“It’s something I am having now that so many other professionals desire, so for me it’s just living the dream, loving life. I can’t wait to get back on that stage and play the second chapter of the Premier League.

“It is one of the most prestigious events you can get in your darts career and I’m part of this now. Obviously being second in the table was a surprise for me, but it makes the experience even more beautiful.”

Van den Bergh comes alive on the big stage. He relishes the party atmosphere and that has been the only negative thus far – the absence of the darting crowds. However, the World Matchplay champion is already eyeing that prospect in the near future.

“I’ve already said I hope I can get myself in the Premier League again, but then the biggest experience with the live crowds. That is going to be even crazier and bigger, and I think I’m going to learn even more from those experiences and those evenings in the Premier League.

“I’m one of those that thinks hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work hard and that’s always something I take with me. I’m only 26 so there is not really much pressure on my shoulders and I just hope to be successful in the years to come.”

“I’m not very good on the practice board but in competition – win or lose I enjoy every minute of it.”

Practice doesn’t make perfect for Clayton…

Clayton is no stranger to hard work. It is well-documented that the Welshman continues to balance his darting commitments with his work as a plasterer for Carmarthenshire County Council, but it is a formula that is yielding plenty of success for the World Cup winner.

Contrasting approaches

The Welshman’s tenacity has been instrumental in his rise, but his carefree demeanour is equally crucial, and he is relishing every minute of his Premier League journey.

“I’m probably one of the laziest darts players you’ll ever meet. I’m not very good on the practice board but in competition – win or lose I enjoy every minute of it,” Clayton admitted.

“I go out and try my best every game. Obviously I would love to be Premier League champion but there are another nine players that want to be in the same position that I am thinking.

“You have got the elite players here. Players who really deserve to be in this, and to be in the position that I am, I am a really happy man.”

Clayton vs Van den Bergh – Head to Head

Van den Bergh adopts a strikingly different approach. His pre-match dancing juxtaposes the intensity he displays on stage, where focus is the key for the two-time World Youth champion.

“I do believe in my own ability and my own game, so when I go up on that stage I focus on myself, play my own rhythm and don’t let anything else get in my mind and prepare well,” said the Belgian.

“If I do that, I don’t see why I wouldn’t get a point against Clayton. He is on top form, he is playing fantastic darts. I definitely acknowledge that and look up to him, because he is also a brilliant person, not just on the oche but also off the oche.”

One thing the pair do have in common is their world-class ability. They lit up the Marshall Arena throughout the opening five nights, and although they are yet to mathematically ensure their survival, they could be forgiven for daring to dream of debut glory.

Don’t miss an arrow thrown with Sky Sports as Premier League Darts resumes on Monday, April 19 at 7pm on Sky Sports Action.

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