Confident Cullen targets upset over champion

AIMING HIGH: Bradford's Joe Cullen.
AIMING HIGH: Bradford's Joe Cullen.
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OUTRAGEOUS bad fortune has limited Joe Cullen’s slinging of arrows at recent World Darts Championships, but he could create history tonight.

The 25-year-old from Bradford faces the toughest-possible start to his campaign at Alexandra Palace in north London, against defending champion Michael van Gerwen. It is the latest in a succession of tough first-round draws for Cullen, who is ranked 44th in the world.

After successive defeats to Premier League player Terry Jenkins in 2010 and 2011, Cullen was paired with three-time world champion John Part in 2012 and faced Peter Wright, who went on to lose to van Gerwen in the final, last year.

He lost his World Championship debut in a deciding set, but has been beaten 3-0 in the past three years. Even so, Cullen will go into tonight’s match with quiet confidence.

Van Gerwen leads only 7-4 in previous meetings and Cullen said: “I beat him the last time we played, in Dublin in October.

“I am not going to lie, when the draw came out I thought it could have been easier than that, but you just have to get on with it. You can’t change it.

“The pressure is on him, not me and it is great exposure. He is the defending champion and he has said he is happy with the draw, but out of the 32 players he could have drawn I reckon I am the worst one he could have got, because I have beaten him more than the others have.”

It hasn’t been the best of years for Cullen, but he added: “I am not a big believer in form. Anyone can beat anyone on the night.”

Cullen knows a win in the main event of the William Hill-sponsored PDC tournament’s opening night would provide a huge boost for a career he admits “hasn’t really taken off how I would have liked, or people thought it would”.

“We were the same at one point,” he said of Dutch ace van Gerwen. “But he has gone on to bigger and better things and I have let myself down.

“I have got to put that right. When I play my best game I can beat anyone, which I have done. But the top players, when they bring their B game – when they don’t play well – they still find a way to win.

“My B game is not good enough.”

Van Gerwen said he will not be taking Cullen lightly.

“Joe’s a great player and I will have to be at my best right from the very start,” he stated.

“You know if you don’t play well, you will be going home.”