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Steph Houghton is determined to get back to her best as she returns to playing again following her World Cup injury heartbreak.
The 19-year-old suffered a cruel blow just two days before the England squad were due to depart for China, when a freak accident in training left her with a broken leg and shattered dreams. "I was jumping over hurdles during a training session," Steph told Women's Soccer Scene. "I jumped over the first one okay but, when clearing the second, I went over on my left ankle when landing.
"At first the physio thought I had sprained my ankle but it wasn't until I got to hospital that I knew the full extent of the injury. After an x-ray I found out that I had a spiral fracture and then it hit home."
Steph was replaced by Lindsay Johnson in the squad and she admitted that watching the World Cup was a little difficult at first. "I didn't sink in until the first game, when it watched it on television," she says. "People asked me if I was going to watch it, and I was always going to, but that's when it struck me that I wasn't there. It was just one of those things that can happen and now I just want to get back playing again.
"We did really well at the World Cup and people watching would have been surprised by the way we played - the girls can be proud of what they did. I attended an event on behalf of the FA during the tournament and the interest was tremendous, not just from girls but also from boys who were interested in the football."
Then it was time for Steph to begin the road back to full fitness. "I was given a special 'boot' which acted as a cast and, once it was removed, it was three weeks before I could run," she recalls. "It was a bit tedious doing physio - for the first week I was in the gym working on my upper body strength and doing aerobic work, and I also needed to build up the muscles in my leg once again.
"At first the doctor told me that I would be back in training in November so I am a little ahead of schedule at the moment. The physios at Loughborough and back home (in the North East) were great and probably helped me to get back earlier than expected."
The injury also prevented Steph from playing for her new club Leeds United, whom she joined during the summer from Sunderland. "I had a good pre-season with Leeds and was trying to make a good impression with a new club," she says. "I wanted to show them the form that convinced England to call me up, and that I had shown with Sunderland.
"I watched all of Leeds' home games and nearly all the away ones, although it got to the point where I didn't want to watch, especially if they weren't playing well!" she laughs. "I was always going to watch their games, but I'm not a great watcher."
However the happy ending came at the end of last month, when Steph finally returned to the pitch. "I played for fifteen minutes against Doncaster Rovers Belles," she says. "It was a bit strange at first as I hadn't played for a few months, but I did alright and the ankle was okay.
"I am now back in full training and it is just a matter of getting a few games under my belt. Unfortunately, the bad weather has meant that we haven't played since but it has given me a bit more time to get back to full fitness.
"It's great to be back in the squad and I am concentrating on getting fit and playing 90 minutes for Leeds. We've got the potential to get into the top three but we must be conscious that teams can take points off us, as they see us as one of the stronger teams now.
"I hope to get back with England in the New Year, maybe with the seniors or the under-20s, as I would qualify to play in the Under-20 World Cup next year."
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