ANDERSON AND SMITH FACE NOTTINGHAM CLASH IN BETWAY PREMIER LEAGUE
GARY ANDERSON will take on apprentice Michael Smith for the first time on the big stage as the Betway Premier League visits the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham on Thursday, with red-hot Michael van Gerwen seeking to continue his winning run.
Reigning Premier League champion Anderson faces 2016 debutant Smith on the sixth league night of the season, with the pair sharing the same manager and the Scot having acted as a mentor during the former World Youth Champion's rise into the world's top ten.
The pair will meet on the big stage for the first time in Nottingham in a game which could also prove significant in the race for players to avoid elimination on Judgement Night in Week Nine, after Smith picked up his first win of the season in Exeter last Thursday.
Smith and Dave Chisnall now sit on three points ahead of bottom-placed Robert Thornton - who has picked up just one point so far - with Anderson joined by 2014 Premier League champion Raymond van Barneveld on four points.
"It's a massive match for us both," admitted Anderson. "Michael's had a tough start, especially playing twice in the first week, but he's started to find his feet. Now that he's got the win he'll settle down and he's given himself a great chance to make the cut. He was getting a bit down about it but I know what he can do - I just don't want to let him show that against me!"
St Helens' Smith defeated van Barneveld 7-5 a week ago to kick-start his challenge, and is in confident mood as he prepares to take on the World Champion.
"I can't wait - I'm really looking forward to it," said Smith. "We've played in a European Tour event and a few times on the floor and I've been waiting for the last four years to get him on TV.
This was the first fixture I looked for when they were announced and it's going to be good, although because I've been waiting so long for this game I don't want to come out and blow my chance, but we'll both be up for it and we want to smash each other up on the board! We've been arguing about this game since the fixtures came out and saying that we'll beat each other 7-0, but there's no pressure on me now that I've got that win. I can relax and have fun up there and I can't wait to go up against him."
At the other end of the league table, world number one van Gerwen is targeting a fifth successive Premier League win as he faces Chisnall.
After hitting a world record televised average in Aberdeen a fortnight ago, van Gerwen averaged 116 as he ended Peter Wright's unbeaten start to the season in Exeter before going on to land a nine-darter as he retained the UK Open title over the weekend.
"The last few weeks have been brilliant," said van Gerwen. "I'm playing well, I'm full of confidence and I'm not making a lot of mistakes and I'm very happy with my form. I think I can do this every week, because I've been doing it for more than a month but I still have to practise hard and get ready for Dave because he's a great player and a big scorer."
Phil Taylor has joined van Gerwen on eight league points with four straight victories, and he is also in confident mood after reaching the UK Open semi-finals, where he went down to van Gerwen on Sunday evening.
"I'm happy with how everything's going at the moment," said Taylor. "My darts are going brilliantly and I'm practising better than ever, and the results have been coming. I'm pleased to have got eight points and I'm pushing to qualify for the Play-Offs now. Once I've qualified for the top four I'll focus on trying to win it but the first target is making the top four so every game's important."
Birthday boy Wright, who turns 46 on Thursday, takes on Adrian Lewis in a top-four battle, while former Premier League champions van Barneveld and James Wade clash.