The stage is set for an intriguing battle in the second round of the £500,000 World Matchplay Darts Championship.
Coming face-to-face at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens tomorrow night (Tuesday) in front of an anticipated sell-out crowd and the Sky TV cameras will be two sporting sons of St Helens - Michael Smith and Dave Chisnall.
Both cleared the first hurdle on Saturday night and will be desperate to make progress in a competition which is now wide open following the shock first round exit of world no. 1 Michael Van Gerwen.
Smith, who recently lifted the Shanghai Masters title, notched a 10-6 opening round victory over Matchplay debutant Jonny Clayton but was made to work hard by the Welshman in a tight clash.
Averaging 10 points more than Clayton and leading 7-6, the former World Youth Champion then kicked on in the final three legs to set up an all-St Helens clash.
“I kept letting Jonny back in and it was a bit of a struggle, but I’m still in,” said ‘Bully Boy,’ the 2018 Premier League finalist.
“I didn’t play my best but I ground out the victory. I felt like I was a bit dodgy but I’m glad to get over the line and now I’m looking forward to Tuesday.”
Earlier in the evening, four-times quarter-finalist Chisnall ran out a comfortable 10-4 winner against Keegan Brown, growing in confidence as the tie went on after a tricky start.
Brown began brightly, leading 3-2 going into the first break before Chisnall hit brilliant back-to-back checkouts of 148 and 147 to take the lead for the first time in the contest.
Although Brown levelled at 4-4, Chisnall continued his charge as the former Grand Slam of Darts finalist rattled off the next six legs without reply to seal his place in the last 16 for a sixth year in succession.
“It was tricky and it’s never easy to play Keegan,” said Chisnall.
“The 148 was a big turning point because he was on a double, and I think from then his head went down.
“I’ve got to play a lot better but I’ve done a lot of practise in the last couple of weeks and it’s worked.”
Chances of a clean St Helens sweep in round one were thwarted when Stephen Bunting was beaten by two-time semi-finalist Gary Anderson who struck five 180s in his 10-7 triumph.
With the game finely poised at 7-6 in Anderson’s favour, the double world champion fired in a crucial score of 177 and followed it up with a tidy 44 finish to take charge of the match at 8-6 before going on to secure the win in calm fashion.
Despite never having progressed beyond the semi-final stage, Anderson is now the 3/1 favourite with sponsors BetVictor to win the tournament heading into his last 16 clash with Raymond van Barneveld.
“I’m glad to get past the first around against a tricky opponent in Stephen who matched me for long periods of the game,” said Anderson.
“I was happy with my scoring and once I went ahead at 8-6 I felt comfortable and got the job done from there.
“I’ll keep plodding on and see how far I can go - it’s well documented that this isn’t my favourite tournament but I’ll give it a good go.”