Until then it had been an evening of frustration for Nick Cushing’s team, who had dominated throughout, but after Nikita Parris was fouled, Houghton, the City and England captain, stepped up to drill a low finish that beat Megan Walsh to her left. “I just tried to hit it as hard as I could and thankfully it went in,” Houghton said.
Last year City finished second, two points behind Chelsea, and this late victory is a major boost to them as they look to go one better this time. Houghton said: “Games like this – that’s what we were probably lacking last season. The first game then was nil-nil against Birmingham. It’s all about finding a way to win.”
City began by pressing County and winning a succession of corners. In midfield Daphne Corboz was keen to take possession and conduct proceedings. The touch of her partner, Jill Scott, was initially clumsy but after 16 minutes she burst forward to fire in a shot that was blocked.
County were awarded a penalty when Jess Clarke was fouled but she failed to punish City from the spot, her disappointing effort dribbling wide. City also missed a penalty, Walsh making a sharp save from Toni Duggan after Parris, on loan from Everton, was brought down.
At half-time the question for City was how had they failed to score. As well as the missed penalty, County had made more than one goalline clearance and Kosovare Asllani had a finish ruled out for offside.
City, who ended last season with 30 points to County’s 15, continued to pepper Walsh’s goal in the second half.
The visitors best chances of scoring came on the counter-attack, as when Rachel Yankey broke late in the game, but the control of England’s record 129-cap forward let her down.
Now came Houghton’s moment and delight for the 1,167 crowd. City’s next opponents are Arsenal, here on Monday, and Cushing believes that, along with Chelsea and Liverpool, the Gunners are City’s title rivals. “A tough game but we’ll hope to win,” he said.
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