A Premier League Darts record crowd will welcome the world’s top players to the First Direct Arena in Leeds on Thursday, as the battle to avoid relegation from the tournament intensifies.
The Premier League Darts’ first visit to Leeds will see around 11,000 fans pack the new arena for the seventh league night of the season.
With just three games remaining before the bottom two players in the table are relegated following Week Nine, the night in Leeds will take on added significance as the ten players compete in five matches.
Six-time Premier League Darts champion Phil Taylor could move out of the bottom two for the first time this season should he take victory from his clash with Wes Newton – who sits only a point above the 16-time World Champion but has a game in hand.
Taylor had lost his opening three games, but picked up his second victory of the season against Dave Chisnall in Nottingham last week and believes that he is returning to his best with his new design of darts.
“Last week was great for my confidence,” Taylor admitted. “I’m still in the mix at the bottom but I’ll keep fighting and try not to get pushed out.
“It’s a cruel game and it’s a very lonely place on stage, and if you’re not firing then your nerves start jangling and everything starts going through your mind.
“When I’m playing at my best, I don’t think about anything, and that’s the difference. I’ve had a lot of pressure and it’s been a difficult few weeks for me.
“I’ve not been able to sleep – I’ve waking up and two, three, four, five o’clock in the morning thinking about different things to get my form back. We’ve been tweaking the darts each week and experimenting to try and get everything spot on, and it’s there now.
“It was just altering the grip a little bit. I’m a very fussy player, I’ve got to get it spot on and I think we’re 90 percent there.”
Another key clash sees bottom player Simon Whitlock – who has won just once this season – take on eighth-placed Dave Chisnall, who has picked up four points so far in his debut Premier League Darts season.
“It’s a huge game for me, the biggest of the Premier League season so far,” said Whitlock. “If I can get the victory, I will have a great chance of getting where I need to be at the end of Week Nine.
“I know it’s pretty much a must-win game for me and I’ll be approaching it like it’s a knockout match. I’m under pressure to win matches but I’ll be battling hard.
“I’m feeling good about the game and it’s going to be a fantastic night.”
2012 UK Open Robert Thornton could also be dragged into the relegation battle should he be defeated by Adrian Lewis – who claimed this year’s UK Open title a fortnight ago and was credited for the Scot’s resurgence two years ago.
“Robert’s been playing great darts and not necessarily got the results,” said Lewis. “He’s been a breath of fresh air in the last couple of years and he’s come into the Premier League and been knocking in 110 averages.
“When he was having a bad time we were talking and he was missing a lot of doubles, and I started giving him a few practice routines which seemed to help him out a lot.
“He’s great battler, a bit like Andy Hamilton, and he can do it under pressure but I’ll be looking to get another victory. It will be a fantastic night to have around 11,000 people packed into the arena.”
At the top of the league table, World Championship finalist Peter Wright is aiming to extend his unbeaten debut Premier League Darts season as he faces Raymond van Barneveld.
“It was a dream at first, but now it’s getting to the stage where I don’t want to lose!” he admitted. “I want to try and be unbeaten until at least the cut-off on Week Nine, and hopefully I’ll do that.
“If not, it’s going to be a tough game whoever beats me. I’ve got Raymond then Michael van Gerwen and Gary Anderson in the next couple of weeks, so I’ve got to be ready for them.
“It’s going to be tough because Raymond’s a fantastic player and a five-time World Champion. I owe him a couple from a few previous events, including the UK Open a couple of years ago when I burst my score on 138 in the last leg and gifted him the game.
“That won’t be happening again – if I get the chance I’ll be making sure I take it out properly!”
The night’s other game sees reigning Premier League Darts champion Michael van Gerwen face 2011 winner Gary Anderson, with the Dutch star having produced his best display of the season to romp to a 7-1 win over Newton last week.
“I built a lot of confidence with my win over Wes last week and I want to keep this going and win every game that I play,” said the World Champion. “Gary’s back in form and he’s a great player, but I just need to play my own game and try to beat him.”
World number one Van Gerwen is relishing the chance to play on stage at the First Direct Arena, having been impressed with the venue when he was invited to the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards last December.
He added: “It’s not the first time I’ve been to the venue – I went there for the BBC Sports Personality awards and it was a great night. It’s a great venue, it’s massive, one of the biggest in the Premier League.
“I’m really looking forward to playing on the stage because the last time I was in the crowd, not far off the stage, but this time I’m going to be on the stage and I want to entertain everyone who’s bought a ticket.”
A small number of tickets for Thursday’s Betway Premier League Darts remain on sale from the First Direct Arena on 0844 248 1585 or through www.firstdirectarena.com.
Coverage of the Betway Premier League Darts will be live on Sky Sports HD2 from 7pm on Thursday.