SMITH & ASPINALL SET FOR CRUCIAL CLASH IN MANCHESTER
Michael Smith and Nathan Aspinall will lock horns in a crucial clash on Night 14 of the Cazoo Premier League on Thursday, as the race for Play-Off qualification intensifies in Manchester.
Smith and Aspinall's quarter-final showdown will headline a potentially decisive night of action at the AO Arena, with both men desperate to deliver in front of a sell-out crowd.
Smith celebrated his second nightly win of the season in Leeds last week to leapfrog Aspinall into third spot, after the Stockport star had claimed the Night 12 spoils in Rotterdam.
Aspinall is three points above fifth-placed Jonny Clayton ahead of Thursday's action, as the 2020 runner-up prepares to feature in Manchester for the first time in his Premier League career.
Smith and Aspinall are separated by a solitary point with just three nights of league action remaining, and St Helens star Smith is in bullish mood as he bids to cement his top four status.
"I'm feeling good. I'm in pole position for the top four now," declared the World Champion, who is eyeing Play-Off qualification for the first time since 2018.
"Since winning the World Championship and winning in Bahrain, by my standards I've been poor, but I played really well last week. It was a big win for me.
"I've got another must-win game against Nathan in Manchester, and hopefully I can get the win and put some breathing space between us.
"I feel like I'm in a decent place now. I've only made the Play-Offs once and I lost in the final to Michael [van Gerwen], who was ridiculous that night, so it would be nice to get back there again."
Elsewhere, the league's top two will collide in a mouth-watering quarter-final, as current table topper Gerwyn Price takes on reigning champion Michael van Gerwen.
Price confirmed his Play-Off qualification after reaching Leeds' Night 13 decider, extending his lead at the summit to four points following Van Gerwen's early exit in West Yorkshire.
Van Gerwen has suffered back-to-back quarter-final defeats for the first time this season, and Price is bidding to cement top spot by recording a sixth consecutive victory over the Dutchman.
"I know that it's in Michael's head that he hasn't beaten me for a while," insisted Price, who could become the first player to claim five nightly wins in a season since the knockout format was introduced.
"I went on a 19 or 20-game streak without beating Michael, so if I can get him past that I will be happy!
"The pressure is off now going into the next couple of weeks, but there is still 10,000 pound up for grabs, so I still want to win the nights and keep the other boys that haven't qualified under pressure.
"It's a nice feeling to be top of the table, but I'm not worried about top spot to be honest. I was just eager to get into the top four, and hopefully I can keep on winning."
In the evening's opener, Peter Wright takes on 2021 champion Clayton in a repeat of Birmingham's Night Ten decider, knowing that defeat will end his slender hopes of Play-Off qualification.
The Scot has shown signs of promise over recent weeks, but he heads to the AO Arena 13 points adrift of fourth-placed Aspinall, having amassed just nine points throughout a disappointing campaign.
Clayton, meanwhile, slipped outside of the top four places last Thursday, and the Welshman is eyeing a third nightly victory of 2023 to reignite his Play-Off push.
The winner of Wright and Clayton's showdown will play either Chris Dobey or Dimitri Van den Bergh in the semi-finals, with both players fighting to preserve their top four aspirations.
Night One winner Dobey has fallen to seventh following a run of five consecutive quarter-final exits, despite posting ton-plus averages in three of those defeats.
Van den Bergh has only claimed two points during the same period, although he won the pair's only other Premier League meeting on Night Four, which saw both players average over 104.
Dobey avenged that defeat with a 6-2 success against the Belgian on the European Tour last month, although the loser of Thursday's last eight tussle will see their top four dreams dashed.
Fourteenth Night's Quarterfinals:
Peter Wright v Jonny Clayton
Chris Dobey v Dimitri van den Bergh
Michael Smith v Nathan Aspinall
Gerwyn Price v Michael van Gerwen