ASPINALL & SMITH SET FOR STRAIGHT SHOOT-OUT IN SHEFFIELD

Nathan Aspinall and Michael Smith will go head-to-head in a straight shoot-out for Play-Off qualification on Night 16 of the BetMGM Premier League in Sheffield on Thursday.

The final night of league phase action in 2024 will take place in front of a sell-out crowd at the Utilita Arena, as Aspinall and Smith bid to join Luke Littler, Luke Humphries and Michael van Gerwen in the season-ending Play-Offs.

Aspinall leads Smith by one point going into Thursday’s crunch quarter-final tussle in the Steel City, with the winner assured of a place in the forthcoming Play-Offs at London’s O2 on Thursday May 23.

Aspinall won their first two meetings in this year’s roadshow, although when the pair renewed their rivalry in Leeds last week, Smith ran out a 6-3 winner to preserve his hopes of a top-four finish.

“In every Premier League campaign I’ve played in, it has always come down to the last night!” quipped Aspinall, a runner-up in 2020.

“I’ve got the job done twice in three attempts. Last year was unfortunate, but I know what I’ve got to do, and I’m confident I am going to come out with a result on Thursday.

“I’m playing against a close friend in Michael so it’s going to be a tough game, but I let him off last week and that won’t happen again.

“I’ve really enjoyed this Premier League campaign. The first three weeks were poor, so to be in the position I am now where it’s in my own hands, I’m very proud of how I’ve responded.

“It would be a dream of mine to make my debut at The O2, so I’m looking forward to hopefully finishing my season on a high.”

Smith, meanwhile, stormed to victory in Sheffield 12 months ago, and a repeat performance would see him secure a Play-Off berth for a second consecutive season.

The 2023 World Champion won the opening night of this year’s league phase in Cardiff and has since appeared in a further three finals, and he’s in confident mood ahead of Thursday’s all-important showdown.

“I’m feeling good. I won a ProTour last week and I feel like my game is coming back,” insisted the world number two.

“It’s a nice feeling going into Night 16 knowing you’ve got a chance of qualifying, but me and Nathan will have to put our friendship aside tomorrow night!

“I know last year Nathan missed out on the Play-Offs to Jonny [Clayton] in the last week, so that could add to the pressure on him.

“I’ve made the Play-Offs twice before, but this is one of the toughest Premier League’s I’ve been involved in.

“If I can make the top four it will have been a really good season, especially with the line-up this year.”

Littler, Humphries and Van Gerwen are also chasing their own slice of history in Sheffield, as they aim to become the first player to claim five nightly wins in a single Premier League season since the format was introduced in 2022.

Littler boasts a five-point lead at the top of the table, and a quarter-final victory over Peter Wright would ensure that the 17-year-old will top the league phase on debut.

The teenage sensation has taken the Premier League by storm in 2024, celebrating nightly wins in Belfast, Manchester, Liverpool and Aberdeen to reaffirm his big stage credentials.

The World Youth Champion has also won both tussles against Wright in this year’s roadshow, including a thumping 6-1 victory over the Scot in Leeds last week.

However, Littler can still be overhauled by Humphries, who secured a memorable victory in his adopted home of Leeds last week, courtesy of a deciding-leg victory over Van Gerwen.

The world number one has also enjoyed an outstanding debut campaign, and his tournament average of 100.78 over 29 matches is the highest in this year’s event.

The World Champion will play 2023 Premier League runner-up Gerwyn Price in his quarter-final clash in the Steel City, although Humphries insists the prospect of snatching top spot is not his overriding focus.

“There’s not long to go until The O2, so I’m just happy to be playing well,” reflected Humphries, who also landed a nine-darter in last weekend’s Baltic Sea Darts Open final.

“I’ve had some games recently where it hasn’t gone my way, but the most important thing is how you bounce back, and I played really well last week.

“It meant a lot to me given the occasion. Regardless of the Premier League it was a massive night for me, and the support I got was absolutely amazing.

“Finishing first would obviously be a massive achievement, but qualifying for The O2 is all that really matters to me, and if Luke Littler finishes top he deserves it – he’s been fantastic.”

Elsewhere, reigning champion Van Gerwen will look to cement a third-place finish when he faces Rob Cross, who defeated Humphries to claim European Tour glory in Kiel on Sunday.

Cross – who also reached back-to-back nightly finals on Nights 13 and 14 – defied a stunning 108 average from Van Gerwen in their last meeting a fortnight ago, but his resurgence came too late to salvage a Play-Off push.

Van Gerwen, who has celebrated nightly wins in Berlin, Glasgow, Newcastle and Birmingham in 2024, has now made the Play-Offs in 11 of his 12 Premier League appearances, and a three-point haul in Sheffield would confirm a top-three finish.

The 2024 BetMGM Premier League will be broadcast live on Sky Sports in the UK & Ireland, through the PDC’s worldwide broadcast partners including DAZN and Viaplay, and on PDCTV for Rest of the World Subscribers.

2024 BetMGM Premier League

Night 16 – Utilita Arena, Sheffield

Thursday May 16

Quarter-Finals

Luke Littler v Peter Wright

Nathan Aspinall v Michael Smith

Luke Humphries v Gerwyn Price

Michael van Gerwen v Rob Cross

Semi-Finals

Littler/Wright v Aspinall/Smith

Humphries/Price v Van Gerwen/Cross

Final

Littler/Wright/Aspinall/Smith v Humphries/Price/Van Gerwen/Cross

Photos credit Kieran Cleeves/PDC

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