A piece of St Helens sporting history will unfold on tonight when Michael Smith and Stephen Bunting come face to face as they battle to reach the last eight of the PDC World Darts Championship at the Alexandra Palace.
Both won their second round matches on Monday - Smith producing a sensational 4-2 comeback victory over Irishman Brendan Dolan after losing the first two sets and Bunting, the former Lakeside world champion, crushing James Wade 4-1.
Smith more than answered his critics who had questioned his desire to deliver the goods when the chips were down after seemingly throwing in the towel during a previous high profile event when thrashed 16-3 by the legendary Phil Taylor
The former world youth champion admitted he been working hard to improve his on-stage image and insisted it was time he started acting as a man rather than a boy.
His performance against Dolan showed he had seen the light and irrespective of whether he goes on to be crowned world champion on Sunday the lessons he has learned will be crucial to his continued development as a world class darts player.
Smith also attributed his improving maturity to fatherhood.
“I’m a different player now, I’ve shown that in my last two games but I’ve got to show it for the rest of my career,” Smith said.
“There’s no point showing that at the World Championship and then turning up at the next tournament and acting like a kid again.
“The World Championship has brought out the emotional side of me when I give it large but also the calm side of me when I’m under pressure. I was acting like a spoilt kid and I knew it was ruining my chances.
“If I keep quiet and keep calm – like I’ve done in my past two games – I’m satisfied with my performances. I’ll give it large at the right times but also stay calm at the right times.
“I can’t afford to act like a kid again because I’m not working for myself anymore – I’m working for my son, for his college funds, whatever he wants to do. So I’ve got to put the hours in.”
Smith believes an honest discussion with himself after losing two sets to Dolan enabled him to return to the oche with a positive mindset.
He said: “I stabbed myself a few times with my darts in the leg! I told myself I needed to start winning. I thought about my family.”
BDO world champion Bunting was equally pleased by his victory over Wade, arguably one of the greatest players never to have won the world title.
He said: “It was a very nervous performance to be honest.
“I know James Wade is a fantastic player but I had a lot of fans here tonight and they helped me get through it.
“The big finishes decided the game in the end, I managed to take them out at the right times and I think that was probably the main difference between me and James today, as he seemed to struggle a bit hitting his doubles.
“Obviously I’m not very happy with a 93 average but I managed to get through it. For some reason it just wasn’t able to click up there but I can promise you I’ll be back and ready for the next round.
“Michael’s a fantastic player, a good friend, and it’ll be a great game between the two of us who are both based in St Helens so hopefully the whole place will be watching us.”
St Helens third player in the championhip Dave Chisnall suffered a shock 4-2 second round exit at the hands of Benito van de Pas from the Netherlands who described it as “the best win of my life”.