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Stoke City striker Emma Sanders feels that this Sunday's F.A.Women's Cup tie against Leicester City will act as a good guide of their progress in the last season and a half.
The Potters take on the high flying Northern Division side in the Third Round and Emma is looking forward to the opportunity. "It's like stepping up to a new challenge and level and we'll be looking for an upset," she told Women's Soccer Scene. "We have been doing well recently and confidence is running high in the squad."
Emma has more than played her part in Stoke's Cup run so far, having netted four times including a late winner in the last round against Copsewood (Coventry). "To be honest, we should have wrapped up that game in the first half," she insisted. "We had chances to do so and should have buried them.
"The winner was all a bit of a blur really, I just remember being put through by my strike partner Kate Asher, controlling it and hitting it first time. But it was a great moment, one of the best of my career so far.
"It's the furthest we've ever gone in the Cup - last year we were knocked out by Loughborough Students but got our revenge by beating them in the First Round, I managed to get the winner in that game as well."
16-year-old Emma is developing a growing reputation as a deadly young striker and has comfortably made the step up to Combination level following promotion. "Last season was my first in senior football and we did well, winning nearly every game and taking the West Midlands League title," she said. "I was one of the players lucky enough to be given a chance after moving up from the Centre of Excellence. I was quite scared at first but the other players made me feel so welcome and made it easy for me.
"It was much harder from what I had been used to, the players are much bigger and stronger but my pace and finishing are my biggest assets and this helped me along. I scored 26 goals in total so it was a great first season for me.
"Going up to the Combination was a big step up for me and hard after winning the league. But we like a challenge at Stoke and are doing well, with a new manager and a few new players, so hopefully it will get even better. The teams at this level are much stronger and more physical but we're doing okay. I'll be happy with a mid-table finish but anything higher would be a great bonus."
This Sunday, Emma has her first chance to play Premier League opponents and she admits it will be a test of the unknown for her. "I don't know too much about their players," she revealed, "but they're second in the league so will be a tough proposition. Anything can happen in the FA Cup though, we'll be the underdogs and that might suit us.
"With the success we have had over the past year, we can try and prove how far we have come. We have a very young squad - most of the players are either teenagers or in their early 20s - and some of my team mates have just stepped out from the Centre of Excellence, as I have done."
Emma has made a great start to her senior career and is undoubtedly a hot prospect for the future but also has her feet planted firmly on the ground. "I've scored 13 goals in 12 appearances so far, four in the FA Cup," she smiles. "Ideally I'd like to try and beat my tally from last season but I don't set targets for myself - the team winning is far more important to me.
"I would like to play at as high a level as possible in the future and would love to play alongside people like Kelly Smith one day. But I am really happy at Stoke, which is a very progressive club. We have a great manager in Vicky Mitchell, who has brought in some very good players and is always trying to get the best out of the club. She and our coach Rachael Blunt have been a great influence on me and I have learnt so much from them."
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