The race for qualification for the Cazoo Premier League Play-Offs concludes in Aberdeen on Thursday as Jonny Clayton and Nathan Aspinall collide in a crunch quarter-final tussle on Night 16.
The final night of league phase action in 2023 will take place at P&J Live in front of a bumper Scottish crowd, as Clayton and Aspinall bid to join Gerwyn Price, Michael Smith and Michael van Gerwen in next Thursday's Play-Offs at The O2.
Clayton boasts a two-point lead over Aspinall ahead of their showdown on Scottish soil, and victory for the Welshman in their quarter-finals will see him seal a Play-Off berth for the third consecutive season.
With Aspinall having lost to Price in the Sheffield quarter-finals last Thursday as Clayton reached a nightly semi-final, the former UK Open champion now has to reach the Aberdeen final to overhaul his rival and claim fourth place.
“Obviously Gezzy [Price] did me a favour by beating Nathan last week,” said Clayton, who beat Dimitri Van den Bergh in last week’s quarter-finals to move two points clear of the Stockport star.
“I needed to do my job and I did against Dimitri, which puts the pressure back on Nathan. I’m feeling confident and hopefully it goes my way on Thursday.
“It would be fantastic to make The O2 but I’m trying not to think about it. I will just try to go out, relax and play my game, although it’s easier said than done!
“We’re all out to win, so I’m just going to concentrate on my game, and I am sure Nathan will be doing the same.”
Aspinall must beat Clayton and then progress to the Night 16 final to confirm a place in the top four, although the 2020 runner-up heads to Aberdeen in bullish mood.
The 31-year-old averaged 104 in defeat to Price last Thursday, and he also impressed at the weekend’s Czech Darts Open, averaging 103 and 105 before succumbing to Dave Chisnall in the last eight.
“I'm happy where my game's at, and I'm not going to give it to Jonny,” insisted Aspinall, who finished third in his previous two Premier League campaigns.
“I've found something and I played really well at the weekend, probably one of the best tournaments I've played this year and I'm confident.
“I'm going to leave everything on that stage on Thursday night, and if I play like I can and like I played at the weekend, I'll take some stopping.
“There's a little bit more pressure this time, but I handle these situations quite well and hopefully I handle it very well on Thursday.”
The winner of Clayton and Aspinall’s decisive clash will progress to a semi-final showdown against Price or Scottish number one Peter Wright, who lock horns in the evening’s opener.
Price is bidding to become the fifth player in Premier League to finish top of the league phase, and the 2021 World Champion would confirm top spot by reaching the Night 16 showpiece.
Wright, however, will be aiming to round-off a difficult campaign with a strong showing on home soil, after returning to winning ways with Czech Darts Open glory in Prague.
“Gerwyn Price is a fantastic darts player, and he has taken darts by storm,” admitted Wright, who trails seventh-placed Van den Bergh by two points.
"I'm an old guy just enjoying darts, and as long as I keep enjoying it, that’s the main thing.
“I’ve not really started this year, but hopefully I can finish strongly in Aberdeen.
“My averages will go up and they need to go up, because the standard of player around at the moment is unbelievable and it's great for darts.”
Elsewhere, World Champion Smith will begin his bid for a fourth consecutive nightly win against Van den Bergh, as he looks to overhaul Price at the Premier League summit.
Smith has won his last nine matches in the sport’s biggest roadshow, and now he’s set his sights on becoming the first player to win four straight nights since the knockout format was introduced in 2022.
“I’ve got a chance now in Aberdeen to finish top and go into the Play-Offs full of confidence,” claimed the world number one.
“Gezzy has been the best player [in the Premier League], but I’ve been one of the best for the last three weeks, I’ve picked up 15 points and that’s put me right up there.
“It would be nice to finish top of the table for the prestige. I qualified for the Play-Offs a few weeks ago, but I’ve still got a job to do.
“I’ve still got to put on a show for the fans and I still need to go to The O2 playing well and winning.”
Thursday’s other quarter-final tie will see reigning champion Van Gerwen renew his rivalry with Masters champion Dobey, as the pair meet for a fifth time in this year’s competition.
Dobey defeated Van Gerwen in Belfast’s Night One decider, and the Bedlington star was also the first player in Premier League history to whitewash the Dutch superstar when they met on Night Seven in Nottingham.
However, Van Gerwen – who currently sits in third spot - defied a 106 average from Dobey to triumph on Night Ten in Birmingham, and the six-time champion will be eyeing a repeat performance in Aberdeen.
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 16 - Thursday May 18
P&J Live, Aberdeen
Gerwyn Price v Peter Wright
Jonny Clayton v Nathan Aspinall
Michael Smith v Dimitri Van den Bergh
Michael van Gerwen v Chris Dobey
Price/Wright v Clayton/Aspinall
Smith/Van den Bergh v Van Gerwen/Dobey
All matches best of 11 legs
Text Credits: JOsh Gorton