SHEFFIELD SHOWDOWN AT THE PDC

SMITH & VAN GERWEN SET FOR FIREWORKS

Michael Smith will begin his bid for a third consecutive nightly win against reigning champion Michael van Gerwen on Night 15 of the Cazoo Premier League in Sheffield.

The penultimate night of league phase action in the 2023 season will take place at the Utilita Arena on Thursday, as Smith and Van Gerwen collide in an eagerly-awaited repeat of January’s historic World Championship final.

The pair joined Gerwyn Price in confirming their Play-Off qualification last Thursday, which leaves Jonny Clayton and Nathan Aspinall battling it out for the fourth and final spot at The O2 later this month.

Clayton and Aspinall are locked on 22 points ahead of Night 15, with Chris Dobey, Dimitri Van den Bergh and Peter Wright out of contention following Smith’s success at the AO Arena.

The world number one secured his third nightly win of the campaign in Manchester last Thursday, defeating Aspinall, Van Gerwen and Clayton to scoop the £10,000 winner’s bonus.

Smith – who also prevailed in Glasgow and Leeds earlier this season – demolished Clayton with a 110 average in last week’s decider to secure a Play-Off place for the first time since 2018.

“In the last few years the World Champion hasn’t made the top four, so I’m over the moon to be through,” reflected Smith, who currently sits in third position – five points behind Price.

“It could have all gone wrong if I had lost to Nathan. I could have been sat in fifth place, but now I can relax going into Sheffield.

“I am starting to come good. I won Night Three in Glasgow and then struggled for seven or eight weeks, but it’s starting to click at the right time.

“The hard work starts again now. I’ve got to put the hours in on the board. I have two weeks to get ready for the Play-Offs, and hopefully I do.”

Van Gerwen, meanwhile, avoided a third consecutive quarter-final exit in Manchester, dispatching Price in emphatic style before succumbing to Smith in the semi-finals.

The Dutchman has topped the league phase in eight of his previous ten campaigns, and victory in Sheffield could see the six-time champion regain top spot ahead of Night 16 in Aberdeen.

Van Gerwen or Smith will play either Clayton or Van den Bergh in Thursday’s semi-finals, as the 2021 champion eyes Play-Off qualification for the third consecutive year.

Welshman Clayton celebrated back-to-back nightly wins in Berlin and Birmingham last month to reignite his season, and wins over Wright and Dobey in Manchester saw him reclaim fourth spot at Aspinall’s expense.

Clayton will guarantee his top four status if he triumphs in Sheffield and Aspinall loses his quarter-final tie, although the 48-year-old is refusing to get carried away ahead of his showdown against the Belgian number one.

“Darts is a funny old game and we can all play world-class darts, so I am taking nothing for granted,” insisted Clayton, who topped last year’s league table.

“I made a really slow start [this year], but those two nightly wins made a massive difference and put me back in contention.

“I’ve got to do my own job first, but if Nathan loses to Gerwyn tomorrow night and I win my game against Dimitri, the ball is definitely in my court.

“I made the final in Manchester last week and I played well on the European Tour at the weekend, so my confidence is up, and my darts are going well. If I play my game, I’ve got a good chance.”

In the evening’s opener, fifth-placed Aspinall will kick off proceedings against league leader Price, in a potentially decisive clash at the Utilita Arena.

The pair have claimed two wins apiece from their four meetings in 2023, with Price prevailing in Cardiff’s Night Two final, before Aspinall avenged that defeat to triumph on Night 12 in Rotterdam.

However, Aspinall was leapfrogged by Clayton following his quarter-final defeat to Smith last Thursday, while Price bowed out at the same stage, despite averaging 104 against Van Gerwen.

Price currently boasts a two-point cushion at the Premier League summit, as he bids to become only the fifth player in the tournament’s history to finish top of the table following the league phase.

The winner’s reward will be a semi-final clash against Dobey or Wright, who lock horns in their first Premier League meeting since Night One in Belfast, where Dobey defied a 103 average from the Scot en route to glory.

Dobey ended a run of five consecutive league defeats with victory over Van den Bergh last Thursday, which saw him move above the Belgian into sixth spot.

Only the league’s top three boast a higher tournament average than Dobey, although the Bedlington thrower has remarkably lost six of the eight games where he’s averaged over 100.

Wright, meanwhile, has struggled to hit the heights in his tenth Premier League campaign, reaching a solitary nightly final and registering just five wins across 14 weeks of competition.

The 2023 Cazoo Premier League will be broadcast live on Sky Sports in the UK & Ireland, through the PDC’s worldwide broadcast partners including DAZN, Viaplay and VTM, and on PDCTV for Rest of the World Subscribers.

2023 Cazoo Premier League

Night 15 – Thursday May 11

Utilita Arena, Sheffield

Quarter-Finals

Gerwyn Price v Nathan Aspinall

Chris Dobey v Peter Wright

Michael van Gerwen v Michael Smith

Jonny Clayton v Dimitri Van den Bergh

Semi-Finals

Price/Aspinall v Dobey/Wright

Van Gerwen/Smith v Clayton/Van den Bergh

Final

   v

All matches played over the best of 11 legs

Photo credit Kieran Cleeves/PDC

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