STUART Kellett will feel different stepping onto the stage at the Ladbrokes World Championship this weekend.

This time last year, as a relative unknown, he emerged from a qualifying competition in the days before the sport’s annual showpiece before bowing out at the first round stage.

Now, with the prospect of starting 2014 inside the rankings’ top 32, the Northwich ace can be proud of a season during which he has made himself at home in the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC).

It leaves him in optimistic mood ahead of Saturday night’s head-to-head with 20th seed Paul Nicholson at Alexandra Palace.

The Australian is not a new foe, for the pair met last month in the group stages of the William Hill Grand Slam with Kellett on the wrong end of a 5-2 result.

He said: “I watched the draw on television last week, and it could have been worse. If I’m honest, it was nice to just to avoid Phil Taylor for once!

“I’ve played Paul a couple of times on the circuit, and we’ve won once each I think.

“I just didn’t turn up when we played again at the Grand Slam, which was hugely disappointing. I want to put that right this weekend.

“I don’t feel under pressure though, because the year has been such a success for me. If I put added expectation on myself, then I’ll try too hard.

“If I play like I know I can, then I can win. I’d love to reach the last 16, that’s my target.”

The fact the 32-year-old can look that far ahead is testament to his progress.

Still a part-time player, he finishes 2013 in the top 20 on the PDC ProTour Order of Merit – based on prize money won at Players’ Championships, the UK Open and in Europe.

That’s higher than Taylor.

A maiden win in front of the television cameras against Kevin Painter – a potential second round opponent if he gets past Nicholson – at the Grand Slam convinced Kellett he can compete with the game’s best.

He said: “It was a huge moment.

“It had become a monkey on my back, so to get that weight off my shoulders was massive and I don’t need to worry about it now.”

On the contrary, it’s for others – starting with Nicholson – to worry about him causing an upset.

This year’s edition is the biggest World Darts Championship to date, with 72 players starting a 16-day competition in London that ends with one lifting the Sid Waddell Trophy as well as banking a record £250,000 first prize.

SKY Sports will broadcast every match live, a prospect less daunting to Kellett, who lives in Rudheath, now than it was a year ago when he lost to Dutchman Vincent van der Voort.

He said: “This time I’m not going into the unknown like I was then. It was a bit of a blur as I only found out I’d be there shortly before.

“I feel more comfortable now, more confident.

“I deserve to be there as I’ve played well this year. But I don’t want to sit back and say ‘that’s it, haven’t I done well?”

Ladbrokes World Darts Championship
Schedule of Play
Saturday December 14
Evening Session (from 7pm)
Preliminary Round

Julio Barbero v Andree Welge

First Round
Robert Thornton v Max Hopp
Gary Anderson v Mark Dudbridge
Andy Hamilton v Barbero or Welge
Paul Nicholson v Stuart Kellett

First round matches are best of five sets. Those sets are the best of five legs.