Wednesday 14 December 2022

(19) Smith, (31) O'Shea, (PDCNB) Labanauskas

Ross Smith - FRH #14, 456-429 (51.53%), 91.52 scoring (#24), 5.13 consistency
John O'Shea - FRH #77, 296-294 (50.17%), 88.10 scoring (#68), 4.03 consistency
Darius Labanauskas - FRH #60, 362-363 (49.93%), 86.32 scoring (#81), 5.20 consistency

John O'Shea, the former World Master, gained his place on the Pro Tour circuit through countback at Q-School in January, and has had a moderately quiet season with the occasional high point. The main one being his final run back in May - he lost to Michael Smith in the final, but was able to defeat the likes of Dave Chisnall and Nathan Aspinall in earlier rounds and pocket a very useful eight grand, without which he wouldn't have qualified for this event. Prior to that, he'd had a mostly mediocre Pro Tour start, just a couple of board finals and nothing spectacular in terms of averages, beating Josh Rock a couple of times very early on while the youngster was still adapting to the pro circuit, and similar followed after the final, with John getting one board win mainly thanks to a fairly simple draw, but mostly going out in the early stages, if not the first round overly often. It was enough to get him into the Players Championship Finals, where he'd play pretty well but not win a leg against Jonny Clayton, and it would be just enough to get him here as well, as he'd had a pretty rough time in attempting to qualify for the European Tour, only making it into the one event all season in Munich, where he lost to Chris Dobey in the opening round. O'Shea was able to beat Nathan Rafferty and Pete Hudson at the UK Open to make the money before losing to Maik Kuivenhoven, but aside from that we've not seen anything, and if it weren't for that one run, I think most people would look at run of the mill scoring and disappointing results and think that he's just making up the numbers and will probably lose his card once the two years are up. This may well still happen, especially if next season is repeated without another very deep floor run or much improved European qualification, but he's at least got here and has a chance to add another 7500 quid which will help out enormously.

Labanauskas will come back for a fifth attempt, with the former quarter finalist looking to do better that his time last year, where he came unstuck in the first round against Mike de Decker, despite hitting a nine dart leg in the process. It's been a poor year all round for Darius, who barely more than a year ago was high enough on the Pro Tour rankings to have qualified for the Grand Prix, whereas this year he's not even high enough to qualify for the worlds - instead, needing to utilise the Nordic/Baltic order of merit, a circuit he dominated with four wins and a further two finals to end up atop the table with 50% more points than the next best challenger and nearly twice the points of the third place finisher. Darius has struggled heavily on the Pro Tour, only reaching four board finals (oddly beating Gary Anderson twice along the way), winning just the one for a sole last sixteen run all year. This left him a clear three grand short of making the Players Championship Finals, leaving him with a sole major appearance in the UK Open, beating Hendo but losing to Ricky Evans in the last 64. He was able to augment his winnings with three European Tour appearances, losing to Josh Rock and Rowby John Rodriguez in two of them but beating Niko Springer and putting up an acceptable display against van Duijvenbode in the third. This looks like a case of the numbers not lying - scoring nearer to 86 than 87 is simply not going to cut it at the PDC level, although he at least has a moderately favourable draw here, coming in as an underdog but only a 60/40 underdog, so if he can draw on his stage experience, he might be able to pull this one off. If not, he is likely to plummet down the rankings and be in serious danger of losing his card, so this game could be critical for both - not now, but in twelve month's time.

Ross Smith on the other hand is not plummeting down the rankings, instead he's going the other way, mainly because he's one of three players to have gotten a major bink this season, having clinched the European Championship despite only being the number 27 seed for that event. He defeated Joe Cullen, Dimitri van den Bergh, Peter Wright, Chris Dobey and Michael Smith to claim his maiden biggie, with three ton plus averages along the way and the other two being a respectable 95. We've seen gradual improvement from Ross, with him getting a first floor title last year and making a couple of European quarter finals this year, but this appeared somewhat out of the blue, even more so that Danny Noppert's win, as the next logical step seemed to be another floor title or maybe a deep European Tour run, given he only had one overall win full stop and, prior to this year, just the one European quarter final run. Still, a huge achievement, and while his scoring is outside of the top 20, he's showing a moderately high consistency scoring, indicating that he's got differing levels to his game and if the right one turns up, good things can happen. Prior to that win, it was a fairly run of the mill season - just outside the top 32 so entered the UK Open in round three and lost to Krzysztof Kcuik, just missing the Matchplay, fortunate to creep into the Grand Prix where he did take advantage and beat Gilding, maybe wishing he could have done better against Lukeman in round two, where he lost by the narrowest of margins, the Euro Tour only saw him make five events, but he made round two every time and did get those aforementioned quarter finals, getting the scalps of Cullen, Chisnall, Noppert and Heta, and his floor form wasn't brilliant, only getting into the Players Championship finals as one of the last dozen or so players with a season that only featured one quarter final and quite a few early exits, especially in the first half where he was out first round two thirds of the time. Then the rest is history, he got into the Slam and beat van Gerwen to qualify from the group, albeit losing to Luke Humphries, and he could have gone fairly deep at Minehead if he'd nicked a decider against Clayton, after a rematch with Wright was chalked off, giving him an alternate in round one. The quality he's got should see him safely through to a probable third round rematch with DvD, being favoured as he is against O'Shea by more than three to one, and a redo of their match from last year would be welcome. Maybe not for Ross if he loses a three set lead again though!

No comments:

Post a Comment