North West Trio Seek Premier Points

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THREE local players will be seeking ‘home success’ as Luke Littler and Michael van Gerwen will renew their rivalry in Manchester on Thursday, as the BetMGM Premier League roadshow returns to the AO Arena.

Night Ten of the £1m event will see two of the sport’s biggest names collide in the quarter-finals in Manchester, as Littler sets his sights on back-to-back weekly wins.

The 17-year-old celebrated his first nightly win in Belfast last Thursday, overcoming current table-topper Luke Humphries, Van Gerwen and Nathan Aspinall in a memorable evening to move up to second in the table.

“Winning in Belfast gave me a lot of confidence, and it certainly showed that practice does pay off,” insisted Warrington-based Littler, who is relishing his debut in Manchester.

“Obviously I’m not far from Manchester myself, and I’m a Manchester United fan, so it would mean the world to win in front of this crowd on Thursday.

“I know it will be tough. Michael brings the best out of me and I certainly bring the best out of him.

“We know he’s not on top form, but he’s always got those other gears to turn it on, so I’m just focused on winning my first game and trying to get some more points on the board.”

Van Gerwen was the league’s early runaway leader following a run of three consecutive nightly wins in Berlin, Glasgow and Newcastle as he chases a record-extending eighth Premier League title.

However, the Dutchman snapped his four-match losing streak in Belfast, before progressing to the final of the German Darts Grand Prix on Easter Monday.

“My form I think has come from far – to reach the final I think was a big positive,” claimed Van Gerwen, who was beaten 8-1 by a rampant Humphries in Munich.

“You need to perform really well if you want to beat Luke [Humphries], we all know that. He is playing some cracking darts.

“I think at this moment he is the best player [in the world] and we all have to face it, but he also knows this is not going to run forever.

“You also see that everyone is extra motivated against me, but that is not an excuse. I just have to make sure that I’m well prepared and then that shouldn’t be a problem.”

Humphries’ bid for a fourth straight nightly victory was curtailed by Littler in Belfast last week, although he returned to winning ways in spectacular style on the European Tour in Munich.

The world number one boasted a tournament average of 107.51 on his way to the title, and he will aim to continue that scintillating form when he takes on Michael Smith for a place in the semi-finals.

28/3/24: BetMGM Premier League. Night Nine – SSE Arena, Belfast. Picture: Michael Cooper Michael Smith v Michael van Gerwen

Night One winner Smith averaged 110 to claim the nightly spoils in Manchester 12 months ago, and the 2023 World Champion is hoping for a repeat performance on Thursday.

“Winning nights always gives you the confidence you need, but that was 12 months ago and this is now,” declared Smith, who is three points behind fourth-place Aspinall.

“You can only look forward and not behind otherwise you will never move forward.

“This is most definitely one of the toughest seasons I’ve been involved in. You need to average 100 each week now, and even then it’s sometimes not good enough.

“If me and Luke are both firing tomorrow then everyone knows we can both average over 110 easily, and the crowd will be in for a treat!”

In the evening’s opener, Stockport star Aspinall will aim to cement his place in the top four when he eyes a fifth consecutive victory over 2018 World Champion Rob Cross.

28/3/24: BetMGM Premier League. Night Nine – SSE Arena, Belfast. Picture: Michael Cooper Nathan Aspinall v Peter Wright

Despite losing his opening three matches in this year’s showpiece, Aspinall has featured in four of the last six nightly finals, while Cross has slipped to sixth following successive quarter-final exits.

“I’m in a good place, both mentally and in terms of my game,” insisted 2020 runner-up Aspinall, who is in bullish mood ahead of his Manchester homecoming.

“I played here last year and it was the first time I had played in Manchester. I was a bit nervous because it was my homecoming.

“I will be ready this time. My confidence is back, so I just need to keep doing what I’m doing.

“I think my walk-on is legendary at the moment, and I cannot wait to hear over 9,000 fans singing ‘Mr Brightside’.”

Thursday’s other quarter-final tie will see Gerwyn Price and Peter Wright go head-to-head in a battle of the former World Champions.

Wright opened his account in this year’s event with victory over Price on Night Seven, although the Welshman avenged that result in Munich last weekend, before succumbing to Humphries in the semi-finals.

Price – who finished top of the league phase in 2023 – is currently nine points adrift of the Play-Off places, with Wright a further three points back, despite doubling his tally with a quarter-final victory over Cross last Thursday.

The 2024 BetMGM Premier League will be broadcast live on Sky Sports in the UK & Ireland, through the PDC’s worldwide broadcast partners including DAZN and Viaplay, and on PDCTV for Rest of the World Subscribers.

2024 BetMGM Premier League

Night Ten – AO Arena, Manchester

Thursday April 4

Quarter-Finals

Nathan Aspinall v Rob Cross

Luke Littler v Michael van Gerwen

Michael Smith v Luke Humphries

Gerwyn Price v Peter Wright

Semi-Finals

Aspinall/Cross v Littler/Van Gerwen

Smith/Humphries v Price/Wright

Final

Aspinall/Cross/Littler/Van Gerwen v Smith/Humphries/Price/Wright

——ENDS—–

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