ENGLAND football star Steph Houghton is hoping to heap misery on old friends on her Wearside homecoming this weekend.
The Arsenal Ladies player will line up against Sunderland Women at Eppleton CW in an FA Cup quarter-final clash on Sunday – the first time she has faced her former club since leaving the Lady Black Cats three years ago.
And the 22-year-old from South Hetton is determined to help the Gunners on to a second big semi-final, this time at Sunderland’s expense.
Houghton was in the Arsenal team that won through to the Champions League semis on Wednesday night, with a 2-2 draw in Sweden against Linkoping. That results meant the tie was even at 3-3 over the two legs, with Arsenal going through on the away goals rule.
With the World Cup in Germany this summer and the launch of the new semi-pro FA Women’s Super League next month, it’s a big season for Houghton ... with FA Cup glory very much on the agenda.
“I’d love to get through to the final and win it,” she said. “It’s one of the biggest occasions of the season, but we are not getting ahead of ourselves.
“We know that we have a very tough game on Sunday and that Sunderland will make it very hard for us.
“I know a lot of the girls in the Sunderland team. I grew up with a lot of them – the likes of Steph Bannon, Gemma Wilson and Sophie Williams – through the Centre of Excellence and we played together as part of the Sunderland team when I was there a few years ago.
“I’ve been away three years and I’ve never had to play against Sunderland in that time – we’ve either been in different divisions or I have been injured. It will be like coming home, but I’ll be concentrating on playing my best and getting the win.
“We know that Sunderland will be very well organised and difficult to break down.
“They beat Arsenal in the league last season and that was a big shock. Some of our players said it was our worst performance of the season, but that should not take away from Sunderland’s achievement.”
The Gunners are again favourites to be league champions this season, as they go for an eighth title in a row. But this year they are battling for the new “summer” Super League title, with the opening game still a fortnight away.
“It feels like we’ve had three pre-seasons in six months,” laughed Steph, who now has 15 England caps and looks certain to be in the World Cup squad. “It’s been a long run-in to get going but we’re almost in full swing.
“We’ve been playing the Champions League games, and then into the FA Cup, and we’ll soon be starting the league games. There’s also been England games and get-togethers, so there’s plenty going on!”
Houghton was back on Wearside last weekend and took in Sunderland’s league win against Leeds at Hetton.
“It wasn’t a spying mission, though!” she joked.
Sunday’s game at Eppleton CW kicks off at 1pm. Entry is £3 for adults and £1 for children.