Manchester City captain Steph Houghton has made her long-awaited return to training after missing more than three months with an ankle injury.
Once she recovers her full fitness, it will be a huge boost for City in the second half of the WSL season after a disastrous start to the campaign – only back-to-back wins in the final two games of 2021 saw Gareth Taylor’s team rise into the top half after previously languishing ninth.
Houghton played in each of City’s first two WSL games of the season, as well as in the shock Champions League qualifying round elimination at the hands of Real Madrid, but suffered her injury during an England training session during the September international break.
The 33-year-old has been out of action since but was pictured back in training on Wednesday.
Houghton’s lengthy absence only compounded numerous other problems for City that led to them winning just one of their opening five WSL games and suffering embarrassing heavy defeats against both Arsenal and Chelsea so far this season.
The majority of the squad was forced to forgo a pre-season due to international commitments at the Olympics and an early start in the Champions League qualifying rounds.
City were also already short at the back, having seen centre-backs Abby Dahlkemper, Gemma Bonner and Aoife Mannion leave the club. Houghton’s injury added to that situation, with new signing Alanna Kennedy in and out of the team and Jill Scott forced to fill in at the back.
Lucy Bronze has also been out of action since undergoing knee surgery in August, with attacking players Georgia Stanway and Janine Beckie used as emergency full-backs at various times.
Holding midfielder Keira Walsh was additionally missing at the start of the season, while City have been without key forward Chloe Kelly, who was named Women’s player of the season at the 2021 North West Football Awards, since May because of a long-term ACL injury.