THERE will be no man shouting louder for Johnny Haines at Alexandra Palace this evening than his good friend Dennis Smith.
The World Championship veteran will be in the crowd to watch The Punk take on Wes Newton in round one, having himself missed out on a place in the PDC’s showpiece tournament by an agonising £100 in the order of merit.
The pair have been practising together in the run-up to Haines’ top level debut, and while he knows his fellow Swindon player is capable of winning, he insisted he needs to start the game quickly.
“I have been practising with Johnny all this week and we have been travelling together all week to play events, and I think he is ready for it,” he said.
“He said to me in practice this week ‘I have been on stage in Bolton so it will be fine’ but it is nothing like Bolton, and it is a totally different new atmosphere he hasn’t experienced before.
“It is a massive stage and the crowd are fantastic so it can be quite daunting, but there is not a lot that fazes Johnny, and he will soak up the excitement of it I am sure.
“The only thing that concerns me is the distance, because best of five sets is a long game.
“Johnny needs to come out and hit him hard early on and take control, and if he does that he needs to keep it up.
“Whatever happens it will be a great game of darts, and he has prepared well and has a great chance.”
While the big stage and atmosphere at the Ally Pally has got the better of some big name players in the past, Smith believes Haines will take it all in his stride.
“He has always had the attitude of only being a pub player, and he has always taken that to the dart board and he never changes and never worries about who he is playing,” he said.
“If the darts are going to go, they are going to go, and Johnny is going to give it everything he has got.
“He has been playing really well in practice, and we have talked through a lot of things that he will have to do when he plays. We have had some good sessions and he is playing well.
“I have made him play in tournaments the last two weekends so he gets match practice, but he needs to not try too hard.
“He knows he is going to be in for a tough match, and Wes will have done his homework and will know exactly who Johnny Haines is and what he is capable of. It could be an even match, and it could be a cracker.”