In-form Jonny Clayton will take on World Champion Michael Smith in a blockbuster quarter-final tie on Night 11 of the Cazoo Premier League in Brighton as the race for Play-Off qualification heats up on the South Coast.
Clayton has revived his campaign over the last fortnight, celebrating back-to-back nightly wins in Berlin and Birmingham to catapult himself into third position in the league table with six league nights remaining.
The Welshman defeated Nathan Aspinall, Michael van Gerwen and Peter Wright to claim the spoils in the West Midlands last Thursday, extending his winning Premier League run to six matches.
The 48-year-old will play Smith in a crucial quarter-final clash at the Brighton Centre, having opened up a two-point cushion over rivals Smith and Aspinall in the hunt for a top-four finish and a spot in May's Play-Offs.
“It doesn’t get any tougher than playing the world number one, but if you want to make the top four you have to beat the top players,” said 2021 champion Clayton, who topped last year’s final league table.
“It is fantastic to see myself back in the top four after being seventh in the league [two weeks ago]. That is where I want to be – Finals Night!
“In the first half of the season, nothing was going my way. I’m still not playing my best darts, but I’m getting through games and that is all that counts.
“I’m confident I can make the Play-Offs, but it will still be a hard task. I think I’m good enough to be there, but there are eight players chasing the same dream.”
Smith suffered a chastening 6-1 defeat to Wright in Birmingham, although the world number one responded by clinching his sixth European Tour title at the German Darts Grand Prix in Munich on Easter Monday.
Wright, meanwhile, will be aiming to build on his performances last Thursday, having also edged out an in-form Gerwyn Price to reach his first nightly final of the season.
The resurgent Scot will take on fifth-placed Aspinall in his quarter-final tie at the Brighton Centre, as he bids to preserve his slender Play-Off aspirations.
Wright claimed just a solitary win across the opening nine weeks of action, and despite being ten points adrift of the top four positions is refusing to give up hope of producing a famous turnaround.
“I believed last week and the week before that I could still make the Play-Offs,” insisted the two-time World Champion, featuring in his tenth Premier League campaign.
“It just needs to click and hopefully it will start clicking now. Last week was a positive one for me. My Premier League form had not been good, so it was nice to get a couple of wins under my belt.
“I didn’t expect to beat Gezzy because he’s a man on fire at the moment, but I took my chances.
“I think this could be a turning point for me. I believe all the other guys I’ve got to play from now on are going to be more wary, instead of thinking they’re playing the whipping boy!”
In the evening’s opening contest, league leader Van Gerwen will face Van den Bergh, who is aiming to halt a run of three consecutive quarter-final defeats.
Van Gerwen celebrated a nightly win in Brighton 12 months ago, and he boasts an astonishing record against the Belgian, winning 17 of their 18 meetings, including both matches in this year’s Premier League.
The winner will progress to a semi-final showdown against either Chris Dobey or Price, who lock horns in a repeat of Nottingham’s Night Seven showpiece.
Price remains five points adrift of Van Gerwen in second position, while Dobey still occupies sixth spot, having succumbed to the Dutchman in Birmingham despite averaging over 106.
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.
2023 Cazoo Premier League
Night 11 - Thursday April 13
The Brighton Centre
Dimitri Van den Bergh v Michael van Gerwen
Chris Dobey v Gerwyn Price
Peter Wright v Nathan Aspinall
Jonny Clayton v Michael Smith
Van den Bergh/Van Gerwen v Dobey/Price
Wright/Aspinall v Clayton/Smith
All matches are best of 11 legs