Premier League Snooker 2008: Night Ten Preview

Premier League Snooker – Night Ten from Kidderminster, SkySports1, 6:00pm

Mark Selby v Joe Perry
Stephen Hendry v Ding Junhui
Steve Davis v John Higgins

So then after all these weeks, the final four will be determined tonight as we see the final three matches of the league phase completed in Kidderminster. Who will join Mark Selby, Joe Perry and Ronnie O’Sullivan in the play-offs?

Match One: Mark Selby v Joe Perry

This evening’s first match sees the battle of the Premier League débutantes to determine who will finish the league in the all-important first place, avoiding Ronnie O’Sullivan in the semi-finals. Mark Selby is undoubtedly the favourite to do so, only needing a draw from the match to finish the league stage unbeaten and on top of the group, but Joe has shown already in this competition that he will be no pushover and is more than capable of turning the tables.

Indeed the match itself is a hard one to call, as they often are in this competition with the calibre of the players involved. It is hard to separate them on form, both having defeated John Higgins by identical 4-2 scorelines in their last matches to put him out of the competition. With four centuries already, Mark probably has the edge in the scoring department though and it might just be this that proves decisive as both are very capable tacticians when the occasion calls for it.

It could go either way, but with Perry needing to win the match to overhaul Mark in the table, it is going to be a tall order for him and I can see this one ending up in a 3-3 draw, if not a Selby win.

Match Two: Stephen Hendry v Ding Junhui

For sure the most important match of the night sees a winner takes all clash between Stephen Hendry and Ding Junhui for the final semi-final spot next week. Like Selby, Stephen has the advantage that he only needs to draw the match in order to get the result he needs, but having lost the corresponding fixture last season 6-0 to Ding, he won’t be taking anything for granted.

Another tough match to call, if Ding can come out firing like he did against Joe Perry and Steve Davis in his last two matches then he could easily rattle off the four frames he needs in no time – just like last year. Stephen though is a more well-rounded player than he is sometimes given credit for and he showed all of his talent when he defeated Ding 13-7 in the World Championship this year to move into the quarter-finals. He is by no means a fan of the safety game, but it has improved in recent years and if he can test Ding’s patience, this could prove to be an unlikely way to book his place in the play-offs.

The start to this match therefore will be all-important, if Ding can start well and make a couple of big breaks, he could run away with it, but the longer it goes on, the more I would fancy Hendry to get the point he needs.

Match Three: Steve Davis v John Higgins

The final match of the evening sees the bottom two meet as John Higgins and Steve Davis play for pride – and the small matter of a possible £2,000 per frame!

Both have not really done themselves justice in the event this season, John having tailed off following a strong start and Steve having just never got going from the start. Hopefully both will be relaxed tomorrow and be able to play with a freedom rarely seen outside of an exhibition match, giving the crowd an entertaining, though still competitive finish to the night.

As for how the match will go, logic suggests that having only won five of a possible 30 frames so far, Steve Davis hasn’t got a hope in hell, but I think he will perform well tonight with the pressure off and give it a real go against Higgins. John himself is playing well as he showed by winning the latest World Series event last weekend without losing a frame, but I have a feeling that he might not be 100% focused tonight with already being out of the competition. As a result I am backing Steve Davis to cause an upset and claim a morale boosting first win of the season against an opponent who might just be going through the motions a little…