SENSATIONAL SMITH SEALS PLAY-OFF SPOT WITH MANCHESTER SUCCESS
Michael Smith sealed a Cazoo Premier League Play-Off place with a third nightly win of the season as he sensationally defeated Jonny Clayton 6-3 in Thursday's Manchester final at the AO Arena.
World Champion Smith saw off local hero Nathan Aspinall, reigning champion Michael van Gerwen and Welsh star Clayton to complete back-to-back Premier League night wins with a remarkable display, which saw him secure a top-four finish in the process.
After defeating Aspinall 6-3 in their quarter-final, he then landed six doubles from 11 attempts to overcame Van Gerwen 6-4 in a repeat of January's World Championship final.
The world number one then raced to glory in the final to seal the 10,000 pound winner's bonus saving his best display of the night for the decider as he missed double 12 for a nine-darter and landed five 180s in a stunning performance.
Clayton took out 72 and 121 to establish a 2-1 lead early in the final, but Smith turned on the style in a mesmerising four-leg burst to take command.
He firstly missed double 12 to complete a nine-dart finish, taking leg four in ten darts, before landing six perfect darts in the next as a 12-darter moved him ahead.
Smith also took the next two legs on double ten to lead 5-2, and though Clayton punished a missed match dart to hit back in the eighth leg, the St Helens man sealed his second successive nightly triumph in the next on double 13.
Smith ended the final with a season's best average of 110.05, and the five league points crucially secured his Play-Off place on May 25.
"It's good to be back and I like to play like that," said Smith. "I struggled against Nathan and Michael but I needed the wins and when I need to win, I'm producing it.
"I had to play well once tonight and I felt good. Being 2-1 down, I thought "right, step up now".
"That's back-to-back wins now and hopefully I can go to Sheffield now and win four [for the season]. I did my job."
Clayton's run to the final moved him back into the top four in the race for Play-Off spots, as he defeated Peter Wright and Chris Dobey to ensure that a clash with Aspinall in Aberdeen is a shoot-out for a semi-final berth.
The 2021 Premier League champion took out 102 in the deciding leg of his quarter-final, and led throughout as he emerged a 6-3 winner over Masters champion Dobey in the semis.
Van Gerwen ended a run of five successive defeats against Price with a superb 6-2 win in a high-quality quarter-final, with both players averaging over 103 and the Dutchman landing six doubles from ten attempts.
Defeats in the quarter-finals for both Wright and Van den Bergh saw their feint hopes of being able to qualify for the Play-Offs ended, as both relinquished a 2-0 lead before losing out to Clayton and Dobey respectively.
Dobey also cannot now reach the Play-Offs in his debut season, sitting ten points adrift of the top four with two league nights remaining with Clayton and Aspinall certain to meet on Night 16 in Aberdeen.
The penultimate league night of the season will be held on Thursday May 11 at Sheffield's Utilita Arena, where Smith and Van Gerwen will meet again in a huge quarter-final contest.
League leader Price faces Aspinall, while Clayton plays Van den Bergh and Dobey takes on Wright.
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.