Manchester City have picked up momentum over the last few weeks and are starting to redeem their disappointing start to the season.
The Citizens rounded off 2021 with two important Women’s Super League wins, before kicking off the new year with a 6-0 thrashing of Brighton away from home.
Thanks to their efforts, City have shot up to fifth in the table, just two points behind Manchester United and four away from the Champions League bracket.
A slow start to the campaign and a first half plagued with injuries to key players saw City sit as low as ninth in the WSL table, and looking a shadow of their usual clinical selves.
However, since the turn of the new year, luck has come their way as Lucy Bronze and Steph Houghton both returned from lengthy injury spells.
The skipper also penned a new deal with Man City this week, joining Lauren Hemp in committing to the club.
Houghton returned to the pitch against Brighton, coming on as a substitute in the 69th minute. She then made her first start since September against Leicester in the Continental Cup and enjoyed a 5-0 win on the road.
Houghton discussed her return from the achilles injury she picked up back in September and how she is always learning from setbacks and looking to improve her game.
“This one was really hard to take because of the timing of it. I’d just rehabbed before the Olympics and came back in unbelievable shape and played well over there.”
The centre-back reflected on her time as a whole with City so far, and said she has “learned something new every day” since she first walked through the doors of the training centre.
“I feel as though I’ve developed every season — I’m not the kind of person who just stands still and just be at a certain level.
“No matter how old you are or how many games you’ve played I think you can always improve in certain areas and that’s what I’ll look to do over the next couple of years.”
But despite the elation of her comeback, the captain admitted she had struggled with reading social media posts about Man City’s poor run of form earlier in the season while she was absent from the team.
“It’s hard to sit back and read people’s comments about you when you’re not playing and you can’t influence their decision,” Houghton said. “But I think ultimately, my focus now is to get back on the pitch, enjoy my football and contribute in [any] way I can because I know I’m confident enough to get back to the level I want to be, and even better as well.”
Despite the strained start to the 2021/22 season, morale is high once again and talks are positive after City kicked back into gear at the end of November.
“The squad was low in numbers before Christmas and the girls have done amazing to get through that period. Now it’s time to kick on and go and win as many games as possible and it’s up to me and the other experienced players to drive that environment, be ruthless, and keep playing the way that we’re playing.”
City’s next opponents will be Aston Villa tomorrow afternoon as the two sides kick off another exciting weekend of WSL action.
However, the ultimate test will come after their clash at Banks’s Stadium. A string of league matches against Arsenal and Chelsea, followed by the Manchester derby, looms in the distance.
It will undoubtedly push Gareth Taylor and his team to the limit, but Houghton is still confident the Citizens can resurrect their season and come away with something to be proud of.
“The target is obviously trying to get the Champions League first and foremost,” she explained. “I feel like that’s a realistic target for us and we’ve got to play the teams above us in the next few weeks.
“At this moment in time, the feeling is good, the attitude is good, and we’ve got some very good players here. I think it’s about listening to what we have inside the building, not what’s going on outside.
“When we’re at our very best, we can beat anybody in this league.”