Manchester City legend gets guard of honour with title dream still alive despite late drama

Steph Houghton walks down a guard of honour following her last home game for Manchester City

Manchester City's Steph Houghton was given a guard of honour as she remains hopeful for a "dream ending" to her decade-long tenure at the club, despite a 2-1 defeat to Arsenal on Sunday.

Lauren Hemp, England's shining talent, put City ahead with an impressive display of skill at Joie Stadium and immediately dashed to share the joy with Houghton on the sidelines.

Having announced her retirement from playing last month, Houghton gathered her teammates in a huddle, pushing them to maintain focus with the prospect of their first league title since 2016 within reach.

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City dominated the first half but failed to capitalise, leaving the door ajar for Arsenal. The Gunners seized the opportunity in the second half, with Stina Blackstenius netting two late goals, throwing the title race wide open for Chelsea, despite manager Emma Hayes previously writing off their chances.

Houghton, who watched from the bench in her final home appearance, firmly believes City can bounce back in the season's last match. City are set to face Aston Villa while Chelsea go head-to-head with Manchester United.

"It's disappointing," expressed Houghton to Sky Sports about the result, "I think we started really well and controlled most of the first half. They just got on top of us in the second half and obviously to concede two isn't great but I can't fault the girls for their effort. The situation stays the same. We still have a chance to beat Villa and hopefully win that title."

Though City boasts a superior goal difference over their title rivals, Chelsea possess an extra game against Tottenham Hotspur. Moreover, their match against Bristol City - who have already been relegated - on Sunday night provides an additional chance to reduce the seven-goal gap needed to surpass City if the title does indeed hinge on goal difference.

"It's not ideal. It's not the scenario we hoped for but we knew it was a possibility," admitted Houghton, "The message is to keep doing what we've done all season. We play really good football. Today at times we weren't our best but at the same time we know that we can bounce back. We've done that a lot during this season."

When asked what it would mean for her to see her team win their first league title in eight years, in her final match for the club, Houghton did not contain her excitement. "Mic drop. That would be unbelievable, a dream ending.

"But I'm conscious that Chelsea are a really, really good team and they always bounce back and Emma Hayes leaving this season. So, I'm trying to keep my feet on the floor and not think of that moment but regardless of if we do or we don't, I can be really proud of my 10 years here."

At the age of 35, Houghton has decided to draw a line under her career which has spanned two decades and four clubs - Sunderland, Leeds, Arsenal and Manchester City - resulting in a haul of 16 domestic trophies. The latter eight were clinched during her decade-long association with City, a period she graced with nearly 250 appearances. Having been with the professional side since its inception ten years ago, Houghton remains the last original member of City's squad.

Her contribution to Manchester City Women and to women's football more broadly was honoured after Sunday's match with a ceremony and guard of honour by both teams. A bouquet was presented to her by former England and Arsenal teammate Kim Little, while manager Taylor gifted Houghton a framed poster featuring the player.

Reflecting on the recognition, Houghton commented: "Today's been unbelievable," adding "I've had some special days in my career but that's definitely up there and I think that shows what the club is about. They recognise one of their own and those that have put themselves before everyone else. I feel really special right now."