Welcome to the latest edition of our digital Women's matchday programme, as we return to the Academy Stadium for FA Women's Super League action with the visit of Reading.
It's a 17:30 (UK) kick-off on Saturday 27 March with the game available to watch live on the BBC Red Button.
As always, we hear from Gareth Taylor and Steph Houghton, while we also catch up with Demi Stokes, who has signed a new two-year deal with the Club.
Meanwhile, Keira Walsh tells us how her game has reached a new level, we take a closer look at the Royals, hear the latest news from the Manchester City Women's Official Supporters Club and we meet our Junior Cityzen of the Match...
As always, we'd love for you to get involved and share your support ahead of the game! Did you know you can tweet your messages to the Academy Stadium big screen for the players to see by using #CityBigScreen...?
You can also check out behind-the-scenes content and amazing competitions on our @CitySquareLive social media channels! Don't miss out!
Ready to bounce back!
A WORD FROM THE BOSS...
Hello, City fans,
We have another huge game on our hands on Saturday evening - a home league encounter against Reading, which will be a really tough test. Welcome to Reading and their manager Kelly Chambers, their players and staff.
It's a good game for us. We've been showing really good form in the league and we need to maintain that. Every game from now to the end of the season will be tough and we can't underestimate any of the five opponents we have remaining in the league, if we want to be there challenging at the end of the season. That's the right attitude to have.
I hope to see a positive response from the team, following Wednesday's Champions League defeat, especially on our own patch. Right now, the most important game is this one against Reading and then we'll look to the home leg against Barcelona. It's a simple formula - taking one game at a time - but we want to take this all the way and be in a position where - when we encounter that Chelsea game - everything is still on the line.
Reading have already taken points off us this season, as well as other teams. I never underestimate any opponent in the FA WSL because we’ve seen some surprise results this season. We have worked hard to get to this point - to be in contention with an opportunity - but that’s all it is, and we don't want to throw everything away now.
Sometimes you find out a lot about people when the chips are down. Of course, Wednesday's result was not the result we wanted - but we had chances. I've always said the game is about both boxes and normally, with the number of chances we had, we'd score goals. It would have been important to get a goal and we were disappointed with the chances we gave away but as far as we're concerned, it's only half-time.
I believe we can score three or four goals at the Academy Stadium. If we weren't scoring goals, I'd be a little bit concerned but anything can happen in football. It's important to be there, working hard at the right moment and who knows? We'll be giving it our best shot.
It's been a quick turnaround between games, especially with this game being brought forward from the Sunday, but we can cope with that. Everyone has looked good and fresh, and has been putting themselves forward to be ready - and that's what we want.
Admittedly, Steph Houghton has been a big loss but the girls have coped and will continue to do that, and Steph is still having a big influence off the pitch. She's a real shining light for us as a leader of the Club and she's one of those players who would sacrifice her own personal gain to help others. To have reached 200 appearances for the Club in our last home game was a great achievement and one she fully deserves.
We're really looking forward to another test and the chance to return to winning ways.
Enjoy the game.
We have another massive game on Saturday with the visit of Reading. Obviously, I'm frustrated to be out - no footballer likes injuries! - and I've been disappointed to miss so many crucial games, but I'll be doing my best for the team in another role: being the best supporter for my teammates!
People will tell you I'm not the best watcher of games - I kick every ball! - but I will always do the best I can for the team, even if I'm not on the pitch. I have so much confidence in the squad and with the way we've been playing over the last few months, with such a great squad and so much depth, I'm confident we can win our remaining games.
I watched the Champions League game in midweek with Gemma Bonner and Megan Campbell. It's only natural to be disappointed, especially when you're used to winning, and we know we didn't perform as well as we could have - but that's football.
When you're a top team like we are, you have to make sure you use all of that energy and frustration to take into the next game, whilst remembering who we are and the good things we've been doing over the course of the season, focusing on the positives.
It's important to move on quickly so the fact this game has come so soon after is perfect. The best reaction would be for us to put in the performance we know we're capable of. In any Manchester City team - female or male - you have to fight to the end and make sure that, no matter what, you play the way City play. With the players we have, we have a squad that's ready to go and we know how important this game is.
There are five league games left and it's still in our hands. We'll focus on one game at a time, as we always do, but we know that if we win them all, it's ours.
That's not saying it's going to be easy, especially against Reading! They've been a bit of a bogey team for us in recent seasons - tactically, they're very good and they can play various formations, so we'll have to be adaptable. When we played them away this year, we drew 1-1 but in fairness, we had plenty of chances to win that game and we should have put it to bed!
That may be in the back of the players' minds a little bit but although we always pay our opponents respect, we have to focus on what we can do - the quality we have, the way we play - and ensure everyone is firing from the goalkeeper to the strikers.
As a final note, I'd like to thank everyone for your lovely messages after my 200th City appearance. To have played 200 games for this Club is a huge privilege and the fact I've been here from the start makes it even more special. I feel I've given absolutely everything - 110% - every single day to be the best professional and best captain I can be. Hopefully, there'll be a lot more to come!
Come on, City!
WALSH REACHING NEW LEVELS
Keira Walsh believes she has unlocked another level of performance this season.
The midfield maestro – an integral cog in the heart of the City machine – has been imperative in the success of her childhood Club since donning her beloved sky blue and white as a teenager in our maiden campaign as a professional outfit in 2014.
Widely recognised as one of the most influential, technically gifted players within the women’s game, her contributions do not go unnoticed.
A natural leader, she has found her voice on the pitch, always demanding the best from herself and those around her, while off the pitch, she remains reserved and humble, and content to step out of the limelight.
Ever eager to better herself, the midfield engine is always striving for perfection and this season, under the stewardship of Head Coach Gareth Taylor and the positive influence of the numerous leaders around her, Walsh feels she has hit new heights.
What has been key to her improvement? A more logical approach.
“After speaking to Gaz, I realised I didn’t have to be so eager to get on the ball all the time,” she explains.
“Instead, it’s about being patient – standing still if necessary – and being logical about how and where I get the ball, and what I do with it once I’ve got it.
“A lot of the girls laugh at me now because I don’t really move a lot in a game but when I watch my game back, you can see that Gaz and Jermaine (Performance Analyst) have helped me to improve massively.
“Going through those clips has helped everyone’s game and personally, I’m starting to take my game onto the next level.”
It’s not just the coaching staff who are aiding her development either. The level of experience, quality and leadership within the squad is certainly no secret and Walsh adds she has been learning a lot from each of her teammates every day.
“Of course, Steph is the leader of the team and has been for a long time but it’s been nice for her – and all of us – to have more players in, who are natural leaders,” she continues.
“Lucy Bronze and Sam Mewis in particular are natural leaders and they’re definitely players I look up to.
“Playing in midfield with Sam, you can see she’s a big influence. She’s a calming influence but she also drives the standard and gets the team going when needed.
“In previous years, I think we’ve missed that a little bit but she’s been one of the biggest influences this season and you can see that in games with the way she drives the team.”
A fans’ favourite for Club and country, Walsh has been tipped to accomplish whatever she sets her mind to.
With such an exciting calendar in the women’s game in the coming years, the midfielder could find herself competing at some of the most prestigious international tournaments – the Euros, the World Cup and even the Olympics.
While the midfielder admits she would love nothing more than to represent her country on the biggest stages, the 23-year-old says she is keeping her feet firmly on the ground.
“It’s crazy to think about it but ultimately, I believe that if you put in good performance for your Club, that kind of stuff falls into place,” she stated.
“Right now, I’m focusing on doing my best for City, getting points on the board and helping us in the league and Champions League.
“Hopefully, the rest will take care of itself.”
Q&A WITH → DEMI STOKES
The City and England full-back put pen to paper on a new two-year deal earlier this month, extending her contract to the summer of 2023.
We caught up with the defender to celebrate her news and look back on a fantastic career in sky blue...
Demi, congratulations on your new deal. What does it mean for you to be here for another two years?
I’m very happy to continue the journey!
I feel very grateful and very fortunate, especially given what’s happened over the last year and with people losing jobs. I don’t take it lightly.
If you look at the players we’ve brought in, to be a part of that and to help with that process to hopefully, achieve success is exciting.
What were the key factors for you in extending your stay?
It was a no-brainer that I wanted to stay. I just said: if you look at the team and its depth, I want to be a part of that and push players who push me.
We’ve got that - and of course, I want to win with the girls as well. We’re up there competing and we want to win. It seems like home for me. It was an easy decision!
To be fair, it is something you think about. I’m not getting any younger so you have to start about thinking what you want too...
You mentioned there you had to think about what you wanted... What is that? You've already achieved a lot during your City career so what's the aim for the next two years?
For me personally, it's to keep pushing, thriving. Although I am getting older, I want to keep pushing myself, stretching myself to become even better - even if it's a 1% difference - and I believe I can do that with the players around me.
In terms of silverware, we want to win the league and the Champions League.
You also said the Club 'feels like home'... Do off-the-field factors, such as how you feel about the Club and the city, also play a role in your decision?
I think so. As an athlete, you have to be selfish and make the best decision for you.
I feel very settled and happy. It makes that decision easy. As a footballer, you have to make a selfish decisions, even if it means moving away if you have to... but for me, luckily that wasn’t the case.
If you can get everything off the field as well as on it - a good balance, such as being able to see family and friends, for example - that definitely helps.
Your England career has gone hand-in-hand with your time at City. With the Olympics coming up this summer and the chance to be part of Great Britain's squad, how important is being at City to achieving success on the international stage?
It definitely helps. If you look at the recent camps, there are usually around 10 of us from City who go away to England duty and having those relationships on and off the field does help.
At the same time though, it's important I focus on myself and my own performance, doing the right things to give myself the best possible chance of getting picked.
On the day you signed for City six years ago, you said it was a dream come true. How do you reflect on that journey now, looking back?
It's mad to think it's been six years! It's gone really fast. There was a picture on social media on the anniversary and I remember thinking: 'Wow! It seems like three weeks ago!' - in a good way!
It's good to see where I started and how the Club has evolved. There have been changes and you have to ride with it and embrace it. It helps you to improve and that's what I want. It's good to be part of.
How do you think you’ve developed as a player in that period?
Massively! I always laugh when I look back at games. When I first started, I was just figuring out the left-back position and how to play there, figuring out what I was good at and not so good at.
I've improved my game loads in that respect. It's been really good for me. I've learned a lot and even now, I'm still learning.
It's good to look back. I've definitely improved and now, it's about being consistent.
What would you say has been your City career highlight?
I'm going to say the first FA Cup Final win - against Birmingham.
The FA Cup is something every player wants to win and I'd lost a Final previously with Sunderland against Arsenal. At the time, we were buzzing that we'd only been beaten 2-1 and had managed to keep the score down! You can laugh about it now...
To have won it with City was special for me.
You've made more than 150 appearances for the Club and during that time, we've been consistently challenging for honours. What challenges do players face when they're in a team like that for such a long period of time?
To not become content with what you've done - to keep pushing in the knowledge that if you don't perform, someone else can take your shirt.
You have to keep pushing yourself and performing because of the depth of the team. It's important for consistency but also to push the person beside you.
Would you say this is the best City squad you've been involved with?
Definitely one of the best. If you look over the teams we've had over the years, there have been a lot of good players but in terms of depth, you can play any starting XI now and be confident you can win the game.
Anyone can start, anyone can play and we have a lot of diverse players, who can play in any position and do a good job. We have a good balance - England players, American players and a good mixture of experience and youth.
How have you found the squad competition, especially with Alex Greenwood and Megan Campbell also able to play at left-back?
It's elevated me and as a player, is necessary. You have to use it as a positive. If you start thinking: 'What if I don't play?', you can put yourself in a hole, on the backfoot before you've given yourself a chance.
Knowing there is someone waiting in that position pushes you and it's about what you can learn from those players. Of course, Alex went to Lyon and played with world-class players and won the Champions League so for me, I focus on what I can learn that can help me and then help the team.
Since you first joined, the FA WSL has also strengthened. Is it harder than ever to be successful?
Definitely. If you look at the year we won the title, it would be harder now to do that again. Teams bring an extra 10% against you so you have to play every game like it's your last, or a Final.
We want that. You don't want it to be a breeze. That's not beneficial for the international team either. If you're getting good games week in, week out, you're going to improve and it's more rewarding when you do win.
What's Gareth Taylor like to work with? After working with Nick Cushing for so long, has it been beneficial to have had a change of coach at this stage in your career?
He's been good for the group. His attention to detail is very precise and we needed something different.
He is very different to Nick but it's about embracing the change and thinking: 'What can i learn from the new coach and add to my toolbox?'
It's been good. Change is good and it's been good for the team. A new set of eyes can bring different perspectives and opinions and by trying those new things, you can elevate your game.
What demands does he place on your as a full-back?
Encouraging me to get on the ball and allowing me to express myself, which has been enjoyable. I can get up and down - my legs aren't gone yet! - but it's about being more than a conventional full-back.
I've been learning new systems, playing with different players. We have a lot of wingers, who are all different, so that's also part of player development - learning what's required in certain games and how it changes.
It's been a positive first season with Gareth. What do you think this squad is capable of?
Anything we want! The talent we have and the depth is frightening! You've got Lucy Bronze and Alex from Lyon, who have the experience of winning the Champions League, plus the American girls who are World Cup winners... Players who have been there and done it.
Having that winning mindset makes you want it more. You get a taste of what it is to win - and what it takes to win - but then you go: 'Right, I've done that but I have another game next week' and switch the focus. You move onto the next thing you can win.
We have everything, and all of that experience and all of those qualities will help - but it's up to us to set the bar high and make sure we're demanding the best from each other.
Nickname: The Royals
Stadium: Madejski Stadium
Manager: Kelly Chambers
Division: FA Women’s Super League (2017-present)
South West Combination Women's Football League (2007/08)
FA Women's Premier League Southern Division (2012/13)
FA Women's Super League 2 (2015)
13 April 2014: City 2-1 Reading (Duggan x2)
3 August 2016: Reading 1-2 City (Christiansen, Duggan)
28 August 2016: City 2-0 Reading (Beattie, Houghton)
18 March 2017: City 1-0 Reading (Bronze)
7 May 2017: Reading 2-3 City (Parris x2, Scott)
7 January 2018: Reading 2-5 City
(Nadim, Emslie, Christiansen, Scott x2)
1 April 2018: City 0-2 Reading
28 October 2018: City 1-1 Reading (Stanway)
13 March 2019: Reading 3-4 City (Parris x3, Stokes)
15 September 2019: Reading 0-2 (Bremer x2)
18 October 2020: Reading 1-1 City (Mewis)
Nikita Parris is City’s top scorer against the Royals, having netting five goals.
Welsh forward Natasha Harding spent a year at City, making 13 appearances, before joining Liverpool in 2016. She signed for Reading in 2017 and has plied her trade with the Royals ever since, captaining the side.
Striker Jess Fishlock has also spent time on loan at our sister Club, Melbourne City, earning W-League success.
Did you know...?
Reading were City's first ever competitive opponents following our relaunch in 2014, as we locked horns in the Women's FA Cup fifth round.
Toni Duggan netted twice to secure progression with a goal in each half, as the England striker gained the honour of becoming the Club's first professional goalscorer.
Competing at the Manchester Regional Athletics Arena, City's squad was assembled with a combination of the City Ladies team, such as lifelong Blue Andie Worrall and long-serving Krystle Johnston, plus full-time England internationals Steph Houghton, Karen Bardsley, Jill Scott, Izzy Christiansen and Duggan.
As Editor-in-Chief Chris Bailey scribed in his match report: "The Blues are liberally sprinkled with England stardust but this is no three or four woman team. Rather it is a side reliant on all its components, new and old players, experienced stars names and rookies, those imported and those who’ve been wearing the Sky Blue for some time."
Meanwhile, England star Fran Kirby starred for Reading, having finished the previous season as the Royals' top scorer.
The clash bore the dawning of a new age with captain Houghton leading the team out onto the turf for the very first time, as Nick Cushing and co. kicked off our new adventure as a top-flight side.
The game itself proved a tightly-contested affair, as WSL 2 outfit Reading banked up to make life difficult. However, patience prevailed as City found a late winner to announce our arrival into professional football!
And so, history was made in Manchester! Start as you mean to go on...
JUNIOR CITYZEN OF THE MATCH
Hello and congratulations to our Junior Cityzen of the Match: Kaitlin Brookshaw.
Kaitlin has supported City's women's team for two years, since meeting the team at Francis House Children’s Hospice. She enjoys spending time at Francis House with her sister, Isabel.
At any one time, Francis House supports approximately 2,000 people with respite care, homecare, sibling support, end of life care and emotional and bereavement support.
Kaitlin gave the players a tour around the hospice and did arts and crafts with them, which she says was an amazing experience.
The City squad are the reason that she plays football herself! She's a goalkeeper for AIM FC and her favourite player is Georgia Stanway.
She started attending games just before lockdown and managed to attend the last three at the Academy Stadium!
Kaitlin also enjoys music and her favourite musician is Billie Eilish.
Enjoy the game, Kaitlin!
If you want to be our next Junior Cityzen of the Match, enter now on the Cityzens platform!
You can support Francis House by signing up for their events, take part in runs, join in the virtual Easter Chick Hunt or make a donation. To find out more, visit www.francishouse.org.uk
This last week saw the anniversary of the first national lockdown - a huge change in everyone's lives. None of us could ever have imagined we would have spent a whole year away from the Academy Stadium.
However, it also seems a time to celebrate and be thankful to those who have pulled our Supporters Club together as a community - closer than ever. Thanks to our members and followers for all of the social media interaction, quizzes, Zoom meetings and group virtual watch-alongs (the FA Cup Final being a real highlight). We have another one planned on Saturday evening for this very game!
Thanks too to the Club for arranging virtual chats with the manager and players, for recording a congratulatory message for our fifth anniversary (via Aoife Mannion), for the tireless work of all in the Club's media team, for enabling us to all stay connected to the team and be able to support from home every game, for the great virtual interaction on matchdays with messages of support all around the City Football Academy and for allowing us to show that our support for the team is as strong as ever by hanging our flags at the Academy Stadium. It has all been greatly appreciated.
The other big news of the FA WSL's new broadcasting deal this week, coupled with the hopeful return of fans when safe, means that despite our enforced absence, we City fans have SO much to be optimistic about in the near future.
As always, our social media channels remain open to anyone who needs a bit of a chat. Thank you.