Bartlett targeting top spot in Premier League Cup group
Written by Luke Vinton
Tyrique Bartlett is looking for Newcastle's second string to finish as Group H winners as they prepare to face their Leeds United counterparts on Monday (kick-off 7pm GMT).
The young Magpies sealed qualification to the last 16 with a game to spare after defeating Southampton 3-0 in their penultimate group tie, but require a positive result over Leeds at Guiseley's Nethermoor Park to guarantee top spot.
Bartlett - who has recently recovered from an injury sustained in pre-season - opened his goalscoring account this term in a 2-0 away win at Reading this month and expects a tough encounter against the Whites as Newcastle aim to finish the group in strong fashion.
United have recorded back-to-back clean sheets in their last two outings, and the South African forward believes such solidity will be crucial if Newcastle are to continue their positive run of form, with the youngsters currently unbeaten in their last five matches.
"Our main focus is making sure we get a strong result against Leeds to top the group," Bartlett told nufc.co.uk. "We want to get ourselves into the best position possible for the matches afterwards.
"It will be a difficult game for us. There is more at stake for them, plus it will be away from home so they are likely to have a lot of support on their side so we need to remain focused and stick to our game plan.
"Clean sheets have been a desire to have because they can win teams a lot of games. We know what we are capable of going forward, offensively, but as long as you keep clean sheets, the defenders are a big part to helping you win championships. If everyone continues to work as a team and stick to what we do in training, we know we can get a good outcome."
While fellow forwards Elias Sørensen and Yannick Touré have been enjoying their form in front of goal this term, Bartlett has endured a difficult campaign after being sidelined for the majority of the season.
The 19-year-old, son of former Premier League forward Shaun Bartlett, revealed his relief in finding the target against Reading after a lengthy spell away from the football field.
Bartlett added: "It wasn't the cleanest goal ever but I'm just happy that the weight is off my shoulders and I now want to maintain some consistency and get back into full speed.
"It was a ligament tear in my ankle, which happened in August. I had an MRI scan then another a month later but it wasn't getting much better so I decided to have surgery. That was only two months after the initial injury happened so I've been out for around five months.
"I have never been injured for that period of time before so having to deal with that in terms of being away from home was difficult. It was as if I had nothing to do as there was a long recovery time of waiting for my ankle to heal.
"Just being able to get back on the field - even running - was a huge relief. I'm happy to be back with the team and now want to contribute as much as possible."
After missing a large part of the season, Bartlett is ready to make up for lost time in his bid to showcase his ability whilst relishing the opportunity to fight for his place as the leading striker for Newcastle's second string.
"I definitely enjoy the competition in my position," he said. "Being out with an injury and seeing others do so well, you feel like you could be there too but you look at it as motivation and something that you can learn from.
"Battling for a place in the starting line-up does make the job more fun and makes you more hungry to go out there and prove what you are capable of and contribute to the team like Elias and Yannick have done.
"I want to show what I've still got after being out for so long. It may have been forgotten about or such but I want to show I'm capable of performing well."
Tickets for Monday's game, priced at £3 for adults and £1 concessions, can be purchased in advance here.
"I have never been injured for that period of time before so having to deal with that in terms of being away from home was difficult. It was as if I had nothing to do as there was a long recovery time of waiting for my ankle to heal."