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Tough one for Chizzy in Belfast against Michael van Gerwen
Updated 3:43pm Wednesday 19th February 2014 in Sport
ROBERT Thornton is hoping that the all-Scottish clash with Gary Anderson can kick-start his Betway Premier League Darts campaign at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast on Thursday.
Thornton is joined by Simon Whitlock and Phil Taylor at the foot of the Premier League Darts table following the opening two weeks of the ten-player event, with that trio having lost each of their opening two games.
Thornton, who has been defeated 7-5 by Dave Chisnall and Michael van Gerwen so far this season, plays Scottish rival Gary Anderson in Belfast in Week Three, and has happy memories of their meeting in last year's Premier League.
The former UK Open champion averaged 109.33 - the highest average recorded in last year's event - in a brilliant performance as he saw off Anderson 7-2 in Exeter, limiting the 2011 winner to only two darts at a double in the game.
Thornton is now hoping that facing the same opponent in Belfast will produce a similar performance, and result, to get his challenge in the tournament up and running.
"It's always special for me playing another Scottish player on the big stage and playing Gary last year seemed to bring the best out of me," admitted Thornton.
"I was on fire when we played last year and I'll need to get back towards that form again because Gary's been in top form in the last few weeks. My doubles have cost me in the two matches so far so if I can tighten that up then I'll be in with a chance."
Thornton added: "I made my Premier League debut in Belfast last year too and beat Andy Hamilton that day, so I've got good memories going back there. Hopefully I'll be leaving with a smile on my face too!"
Anderson, the German Darts Championship winner at the start of February, bounced back from his opening-night loss to Raymond van Barneveld with a clinical win over Whitlock in Bournemouth last Thursday.
"I was a little bit unlucky to run into Raymond in Liverpool because he was unplayable on that night but it was nice to get a win under my belt last week and I played really well," said Anderson.
"I've been hitting my doubles well and I'm really enjoying my darts at the moment, and that's making me look forward to the Premier League nights.
"An all-Scottish game with Robert will be fun too and I'm really looking forward to it. It's an important game for Robert too so I'm sure we'll be getting stuck into each other."
The night also sees six-time champion Phil Taylor, who has lost out to Michael van Gerwen and Adrian Lewis in the opening two weeks, looking to kick-start his challenge against Peter Wright.
Newcomer Wright, the World Championship finalist in January, has picked up three points from his opening two games and said: "I've never beaten Phil before and it will be a huge occasion for me to play him in a brilliant arena like Belfast.
"I'm pleased to have got a win and a draw in the last two weeks but I'm not happy with how I've played so I'm working hard on the practice board because I'll have to improve against Phil if I'm going to break my duck."
Australian ace Whitlock, meanwhile, has lost to both Lewis and Anderson ahead of his Belfast meeting with Raymond van Barneveld, and admitted: "I need to get some points on the board and I'm determined to do that this week.
"I said before the season that this would be the closest Premier League ever and we've already seen that anyone can beat anyone on their day.
"I don't want to be involved in the relegation battle after nine weeks so it's important that I start to get some results, but Raymond's a class player and I know how tough it's going to be on Thursday."
At the other end of the table, van Gerwen is hoping to follow up Sunday's triumph in the Dutch Darts Masters with a third successive victory to open the defence of his Premier League title.
"I've had a great start to the season and winning the Dutch Darts Masters is another boost for my confidence," said van Gerwen. "I want to keep this going now and play even better against Dave.
"Dave's getting used to the expectation in the Premier League now but it's still early for him and I hope I can capitalise on him being a new guy in town!"
Despite being a debutant on the Betway Premier League Darts stage in 2014, Chisnall has picked up a win over Thornton and a draw with Wright from his opening two games.
"It's going to be a great occasion playing Michael and I'm really excited by it," said Chisnall. "I've been a bit nervous going up against Robert and Peter but I can relax and enjoy my darts in Belfast because all the pressure's on Michael.
"I showed last week when I came back from 5-1 down to draw with Peter that things can change really quickly and it's important just to focus on your darts and not who you're playing or the occasion."
The night's other game sees unbeaten Adrian Lewis, who has impressed in two straight victories, taking on Wes Newton, who opened his account with a comeback victory over van Barneveld in Bournemouth.
"I started badly last year, so to go into Week Three with the chance to make it three out of three is a good feeling, but I've got to capitalise on that," said Lewis.
"If I can combine good form with self-belief, I can certainly win this league and I'm not far off that. It should be a belter with Wes - he came back well last week and I owe him one too because he beat me in the Premier League last year!"
The Betway Premier League Darts will be shown live on Sky Sports 2HD from 7pm on Thursday February 20. A small number of tickets are still available for the event by calling 028 9073 9074 or via www.odysseyarena.com.
Betway Premier League Darts Week Three.
February 20, Odyssey Arena, Belfast.
Robert Thornton v Gary Anderson.
Dave Chisnall v Michael van Gerwen.
Peter Wright v Phil Taylor.
Wes Newton v Adrian Lewis.
Raymond van Barneveld v Simon Whitlock.