MICHAEL SMITH won an Alexandra Palace classic to book his place in the William Hill World Championship final with a 6-3 victory over Nathan Aspinall.
Smith won the first seven legs of the match before a gutsy Aspinall fought back, levelling at 2-2 and 3-3 before May's Premier League finalist secured a place in the decider of the £2.5 million event.
Set One (3-0)
A 180 in the first leg helped Smith move ahead with a 14-darter, finishing on double top. The St Helens ace landed another maximum before pinning double ten to break Aspinall's throw with a 13-dart leg. A third 180 in as many legs helped Smith complete an opening set whitewash, as he found double six for a 15-darter.
Set Two (3-0)
A 108 finish on double 17 put Smith in front and he punished Aspinall for missing his first attempt at a double by pinning the double top that his opponent was unable to find. A fourth 180, followed by a 100 checkout made it six successive legs for the world number ten.
Set Three (2-3)
Aspinall missed a dart at double six and was made to pay as Smith took out 68 on tops to take the first leg. A first 180 helped Aspinall to finally get a leg on the board, taking out 60 to level the set. Smith defied a 180 from his opponent by landing tops, but Aspinall squared up the set by pinning double 15. The Stockport talent kicked off the decider with a 180 and went on to complete a set-clinching 13-darter on double eight.
Set Four (1-3)
A second successive 13-dart leg put Aspinall ahead in the fourth set but Smith replied with a 136 checkout to level. The pair exchanged maximums at the start of the third leg, which Aspinall won on double eight. Smith's ninth 180 was met by his opponent's fifth and a 76 checkout saw Aspinall level an exciting encounter.
Set Five (3-2)
Aspinall hit the front with an 11-darter but 13 and 15-dart legs saw Smith move ahead. Aspinall forced another deciding leg and applied the pressure in it with his eighth 180 - but Smith took out 93 on double nine to wrestle back control of the contest.
Set Six (2-3)
A 12-darter put Aspinall ahead but Smith took out 97 to level the set and the following two legs were shared to set up a deciding leg, which Aspinall won in 14 darts.
Set Seven (3-1)
An 11-darter saw Smith take the lead - and he doubled it by landing double five but missed four darts for the set before Aspinall pinned the same target to halve the deficit. Smith, though, finished 90 on the bull to edge back ahead in sets.
Set Eight (3-1)
Aspinall took out 64 after Smith had missed a dart for a 144 finish but a 81 checkout saw the Premier League runner-up level. He then produced a 130 finish to break in leg that saw the Shanghai Darts Masters winner hit his 16th 180. Smith pinned double nine for the third time in the match to move within a set of the final.
Set Nine (3-0)
Smith finished 73 before continuing his perfect record on double nine to complete a 61 finish. He added a 17th 180 - the most ever hit by a player in a World Championship semi-final - and completed a brilliant victory with a fifth three-figure checkout, finishing 121 to reach the final.
Smith - 105.22
Aspinall - 100.53
Smith - 17
Aspinall - 13
Smith - 136
Aspinall - 76
Smith - 5
Aspinall - 0
Smith - 23/45
Aspinall - 13/27
Images: Lawrence Lustig/PDC