TRIO SET FOR BETWAY PREMIER LEAGUE JUDGEMENT NIGHT BATTLE
TWO players from the trio of Michael Smith, Dave Chisnall and Robert Thornton will be eliminated from the Betway Premier League on Judgement Night on Thursday, as Dutch rivals Michael van Gerwen and Raymond van Barneveld clash at Cardiff's Motorpoint Arena.
Thursday's decisive Judgement Night will see the ten players complete the first half of the Premier League season with their final round of fixtures before the field is cut to eight stars - with the battle to avoid elimination seeing three stars hoping to survive in Cardiff.
The elimination battle took a further twist last week when Scottish ace Thornton moved off the foot of the league table for the first time by taking three points from his two matches as he defeated Michael Smith - in a rearranged fixture following his Night Two absence - before drawing with Michael van Gerwen.
Smith's loss, added to a fifth successive defeat for Chisnall, leaves the St Helens pair a point adrift of Thornton going into Judgement Night.
Smith will be the first of the three elimination rivals take to the stage as he faces Phil Taylor, and the former World Youth Champion admits that he is aiming to defeat the Stoke legend to put the pressure on his basement rivals.
"All I can do is focus on myself and on playing as well as I can against Phil because if I lose then I'm out anyway," said Smith. "I'll give it my best shot and do everything I can to get the win. Even if I get knocked out I want to end on a high. It's been a great couple of months and I'm really enjoying the Premier League, so hopefully I can survive on Thursday."
Taylor has drawn his last two games after picking up five straight victories, and insists that he will not be taking the Premier League debutant lightly.
"Gary being ill on the first week threw Michael in at the deep end," said Taylor. "He played twice and went off with two defeats but I know exactly how good he is. He'll learn and it isn't going to do him any harm, but the Premier League's tough. I've drawn for the last two weeks but I'm trying to push forward to win a top four place and I'm enjoying the scrap."
Chisnall, meanwhile, takes on Peter Wright in a key clash for the 2015 semi-finalist, who picked up a win and a draw in the opening three weeks but has been punished for missed doubles throughout five straight losses since.
"I've been starting off alright but I've missed too many doubles and that's been the story of my season," admitted the 35-year-old. "It's been frustrating and I've had too many slack darts. It's all about timing and I'm getting it wrong - I'm not finishing the chances I'm getting. It's fine margins and on another night the doubles might go in, but it's my own fault - I put myself in this place so I have to dig it out. I've got a good record against Peter but if I keep missing doubles then I'm not going to win games, so we'll see what happens. I've been in this situation before and come through, so hopefully the result will go my way."
Thornton's fate is in his own hands as he takes on Adrian Lewis, with the Scot knowing that a win against Adrian Lewis will seal his spot in the second half of the season.
"I know it's in my hands and there's more pressure on the other two players than me," said Thornton. "I can just go up and enjoy myself and I'll give it everything. My confidence is quite high now. I'm playing with new darts, with longer points and better grip, and starting to get used to them and I'm really looking forward to this week. I won't give in and if I can go up and perform the way I played last week, or even slightly better, even if I lose I can go out with my head held high."
The visit to Cardiff will also feature the all-Dutch clash between table-topping van Gerwen and van Barneveld in a repeat of the 2014 final which the latter won.
Van Gerwen, though, travels to Wales in buoyant mood following his German Darts Masters victory over the Easter weekend, which saw him bounce back from his draw with Thornton a week ago.
"It was great to win in Munich and I'm feeling good," said van Gerwen. "I've not been happy with the last two weeks and I made too many mistakes, but that's something I can put right and I'll be working hard to prepare myself for Raymond. I always look forward to playing him and they're special games, especially for everyone back in the Netherlands."
Reigning Premier League champion Gary Anderson will kick off the night against James Wade, with the World Champion having won six successive matches to join van Gerwen and Taylor on 12 points at the top of the table.
"I'm happy with how things are going at the moment but I want to keep pushing on," said Anderson. "Cardiff's a great venue and I like playing there, and I'm looking forward to playing James. My record against James is pretty good but he's a really steady player and he's a very hard man to play against. He's been scoring well but if you give him a shot at a checkout he will take it so you've got to hit the big scores and finish when you get a shot."