Women's Team

Houghton on the FA Cup, Everton and familiar faces

Houghton on the FA Cup, Everton and familiar faces
Steph Houghton says there is no better feeling than leading a team on the walk to lift an FA Cup.

It’s an experience the City and England captain has savoured on four occasions – victorious with City and Arsenal, climbing the Wembley steps to collect the trophy – but the defender asserts the thrill of success never fades.

The skipper is preparing to lead her team out in our third FA Cup Final in four years on Sunday, as Gareth Taylor’s side face Everton at Wembley for a chance to defend the trophy.

City’s name has adorned the prestigious silverware since May 2019 and having held the honour for so long, Houghton insists her side are determined to ensure the Champions are not dethroned.

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Should City triumph, the famous walk to the Royal Box will sadly not take place in the interests of safety during the COVID-19 pandemic but Houghton says she would love nothing more than to hold the sky blue-ribboned trophy aloft once more.

“It never gets old!” she smiled. “Games don’t come much bigger than FA Cup Finals and we can’t wait.

“The last two times I’ve won the FA Cup, I’ve won it with City when we’ve had amazing crowds and the way we’ve played has made it even more special.

“It’s an unbelievable moment. Everyone talks about the Wembley steps and to have women’s football played at Wembley in the FA Cup Final with all of its history is fantastic for the game.

“Watching on TV as a kid, you’ve seen so many people walk up to collect the trophy. It’s an unbelievable feeling to be part of that and follow in their footsteps.

WATCH: Classic Highlights: 2019 Women's FA Cup final

“The FA Cup Final isn’t just about the 90 minutes on the pitch – it’s about the whole day and the build-up to it, and your family, friends and fans having the best day ever.

“Having won the FA Cup, it makes you want to lift the trophy again and again – but I’ve also been part of a side that has lost an FA Cup Final so for us as a team, we have to make sure we do everything we possibly can to bring the trophy home.

“If everything goes to plan, it makes it even sweeter but it won’t be easy – it will be a tough game.”

City have already faced Everton twice in the 2020/21 campaign – once in pre-season and again in the Continental Cup.

Gareth Taylor’s side were victorious on both occasions, cementing City’s status as favourites going into Sunday's game.

However, Houghton, who scored in the semi-final victory over former club Arsenal, warned that the magic of the FA Cup lies with its tradition of underdog success stories, asserting her side must not take anything for granted.

“It’s going to be a tough battle,” she stated. “Everton have improved a lot over the last year.

“We’ve played them twice already and they’ve both been really tough games.

“They have good individual players and their manager has them set-up and organised.

“We have to keep our feet on the ground. We can’t expect to win – we have to make sure our preparation is right so we earn the right to play the way we want to play, winning those battles on the pitch.”

The clash sees several players set to face their former clubs – most notably, the in-form pairing of Chloe Kelly and Izzy Christiansen.

Both players enjoyed successful spells with Sunday’s opponents with Kelly shining for the Toffees following her move from Arsenal, and Christiansen playing a starring role in City’s early triumphs as a professional outfit.

WATCH: Classic highlights: 2017 Women's FA Cup Final

Houghton believes both players will have key roles to play but advised her side must not ignore the threats elsewhere.

“Everyone is talking about Chloe Kelly and she’s been one of the best players for us so far this season,” she reflected.

“She likes to play with freedom and she’s had the assists and the goals to show for it.

“She’s been a breath of fresh air with her energy and enthusiasm, and she’s really lifted the squad.

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“Izzy Christiansen played a massive part of what we’ve built here at City. She scored in the 2014 Conti Cup Final and 2017 FA Cup Final.

“She’s started the season really well for Everton and got herself back into the England set-up, which I’m sure was a goal and aspiration for her and probably one of the things that prompted her move back to England.

“She’s a familiar face but we hope to keep the Everton players quiet!”

As for the City squad, Houghton admits the week leading up to a Cup Final brings the best out of the team – on an individual and collective basis.

“With an FA Cup Final week, everyone is excited and raring to go,” she said.

“The England girls got back from international break earlier than expected so we’ve had more time to prepare and get everybody right for Sunday.

“We were disappointed not to play on Tuesday (against Germany) but health and safety comes first.

“As soon as we found out, our mindset switched to focus on the FA Cup Final. We got back to the Club as quickly as possible, ready to train hard, as we always do.

“Ahead of a Final, you want to make sure you’re in the best shape possible, pushing your teammates on and challenging each other to be ready for the game.

“Competition is high and ultimately, that’s for the best interest of the team. It’s not just about the 11 on the pitch – it’s about the whole squad being able to play a part.”

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