BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS FOR BARNEY AS BETWAY PREMIER LEAGUE VISITS BELFAST
RAYMOND VAN BARNEVELD is aiming to celebrate his 50th birthday by completing a Betway Premier League double over Michael van Gerwen when the tournament visits The SSE Arena in Belfast on Thursday.
2014 Premier League champion Van Barneveld hits the metaphorical bullseye as he competes on his birthday against Dutch rival Van Gerwen as the tournament returns to Northern Ireland.
Table-topping Van Gerwen suffered his only defeat of the season when he went down 7-5 in the pair's most recent meeting in Manchester last month - with Van Barneveld eyeing a repeat result as an ideal birthday present.
"It's a special birthday for me and I want to enjoy the day," said Van Barneveld, who sits in fourth place in the league table. "I'm playing Michael but nobody can ruin my birthday.
"I'm sure I'll get lots of messages and phone calls but then at some point I'll try to prepare myself right and I'll be trying my best to win.
"Hopefully I can stop him again - I've beaten Michael, beaten Gary and drawn with Peter Wright so I've taken five points so far from the top three in the world.
"Everyone can beat each other and I'm looking forward to the remaining few weeks. I'm still in the top four and hopefully I can get into the Play-Offs.
"I'm working hard but it's tough, it's not easy. James Wade lost twice on his birthday two weeks ago, and you don't want that!"
Van Gerwen drew with Peter Wright in Liverpool last Thursday, but bounced back to win a European Tour event in Germany over the Easter weekend with some imperious darts - including a win over Van Barneveld.
Reflecting on the Manchester game, Van Gerwen said: "Things like that happen in life. I should have won that game, but sometimes you make mistakes - people think I'm a robot but I'm human.
"I want to perform every time and focus on myself. I have to keep practising and prepare myself as well as possible.
"Raymond was fantastic in that game and I missed a few chances, but this is a new week. I played some phenomenal darts in Germany and I want to keep that going now.
"I'm looking forward to playing Raymond on his birthday - hopefully I give him a nice birthday present!"
The night in Belfast will see both Phil Taylor and Dave Chisnall playing twice as the competition for Play-Off places continues to intensify.
Taylor will meet Gary Anderson in his first fixture, before returning to the stage to face Chisnall.
"It's a big challenge because Gary and Dave are two of the biggest scorers in the game, but I'm looking forward to it," said Taylor, who saw a three-game winning run ended by Wade last week.
"Every point is crucial at the moment because everyone's in with a shout. The crowd are always great in Belfast so it should be a good night."#
Chisnall, meanwhile, opens the night against Adrian Lewis before coming up against Taylor - with a pair of draws in the past fortnight meaning that he sits six points adrift of the top four but in confident mood after hitting 15 maximums in those two games.
The St Helens ace has previously won twice on a night this season - when he doubled up to cover the absence of Van Gerwen in Exeter - and also claimed two wins on a night during the 2015 season.
"I'm looking forward to it because when I played twice before I won both, I've done that a few times," he said. "I feel confident, I'm playing alright at the moment.
"My scoring is pretty decent, I've just got to hit the doubles with more consistency but they've been going in lately.
"Every match is special when you're in the Premier League, but this is a massive week for me and I need to win both.
"There are five games and if I win all of them and the other results go my way then you never know what might happen."
Lewis travels to Belfast on the back of a nine-dart finish in Liverpool last Thursday, with their opener on Thursday expected to feature a raft of maximums.
"Adie's playing well," he added. "I played him in a ProTour final a couple of weeks ago and and we were both smashing in the 180s, so the crowd in Belfast should be in for a treat
"It's likely to be a big scoring match. It's down to who hits the doubles but hopefully the points go my way.
Chisnall added: "It might be the last time I play Phil, so it'll be special. Phil has still got it, make no mistake - when he goes he'll be missed by a lot of people."
Lewis has fond memories of The SSE Arena after hitting a nine-darter against Wade when the Premier League visited Belfast a year ago, and is on a high after winning five of his last six matches.
"It's going to be a tough game," said Lewis. I think Dave played really well last week and he was unlucky not to get the win, but fair play to Gary because he dug in deep and got the point.
"There might be a record for 180s if we both turn up hitting them! It could be a massive game. I hit a nine-darter in Belfast last year and why can't I do it again? I'm capable of hitting another one, and I'll try to do it again.
"I'm playing really well at the minute. I've been putting a lot of work in and playing a lot of tournaments as well which helps my sharpness, and everything's going great."
Twelfth Night Matches
Dave Chisnall v Adrian Lewis
Phil Taylor v Gary Anderson
Peter Wright v James Wade
Michael van Gerwen v Raymond van Barneveld
Dave Chisnall v Phil Taylor