The FA Cup holders returned to the City Football Academy last week for COVID-19 testing, for the first time since lockdown was introduced.
Sadly, the FA Women's Super League season was forced into an early conclusion due to the pandemic with the title decided on a points-per-game system, meaning first-placed City ended the campaign without a trophy.
This week, the team and staff are readying themselves for a return to training, embarking on a new chapter with new manager Gareth Taylor at the helm, a new recruit in England starlet Chloe Kelly and a truckload of extra motivation, according to the skipper.
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“We’re getting so much closer to a return and I’m really excited like the rest of the girls,” the 2019/20 Etihad Player of the Season told ManCity.com.
“It’s been strange but it’s important that we stayed safe. We’ve missed football so much but we’ve had to bide our time and make sure we look after each other and our families.
“You take for granted a little bit how lucky we are in the sense of getting to go into the City Football Academy every day, being around people – not just the players, who are teammates and friends – but the staff as well.
“It was the right action to take but ultimately, we can’t wait to get started again.
“You miss seeing the same old faces, like in the canteen or on reception.
“Last season was not the season we would have wanted. We weren’t able to finish but if I look back, we did really well.
“We were top of the league for a reason at the stage it ended – we were consistent and we were ruthless.
“We could have been better but at the same time, it’s a long season.
“Personally, and I’m sure I speak on behalf of the rest of the girls, we have an extra motivation come pre-season.
“We have a new manager as well and everybody will be wanting to impress Gareth and start brightly.
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“Most importantly, we have the motivation to win trophies for City.
“We haven’t won the league for the last three years so that has to be the priority going into next year.”
Reflecting on Taylor’s appointment, Houghton added she could not have been happier – already familiar with the former City striker and his impressive pedigree.
“It’s good,” she continued. “When I joined City, he was one of the first coaches to come over and introduce himself, making us feel welcome.
“At the time, we would train with his Under-16s lads team on a Monday, which was good.
“We already have that relationship, which we’re really fortunate to have, and I’m excited to have him on board.
“He’s been in the City set-up for a long time and once the team learned he would be manager, we asked ourselves: ‘How can we – in lockdown – make sure as a team that we get ahead of other teams?’
“We decided to have a lot more team calls to get to know each other a little bit more so that when we do get into training, we’re not that far behind.”
The summer break brought more good news with Jill Scott's promotion to a player-coaching position.
One of Scott's closest friends both on and off the pitch, Houghton says she could not be more delighted for her fellow MBE and is eager to aid her teammates' journey, as the midfielder takes the first steps into achieving a new dream.
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“My first question was: 'Can you still come for coffee?'” she joked. “I might be in a little bit later now she’s a coach!
“On a serious note, Jill deserves it. First and foremost, her priority is still football and rightly so - she's been our most consistent player for the five or six years.
“We know what she brings to the team.
“She's so interested in coaching and when the time is right, she'll be an amazing coach.
“It's exciting and I'm sure she's looking forward to it.
“We're all looking forward to the new season and seeing the fans when it's safe and right to do so, and hopefully, we'll win some trophies next season.”