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Manchester City striker Nikita Parris is counting down the days to the SSE Women's FA Cup Final - but admits their semi final win over Chelsea left a sour taste in the mouth.
City progressed after a freak stoppage time own goal in from Chelsea defender Magdalena Eriksson, after Emma Hayes' side had had the better of the game. Parris was pictured comforting Eriksson after full time, a touching moment after a hard-fought 90 minutes.
"It was just a cruel moment to end the game," Parris admitted. "I said something like, ‘You played a great game, keep your head held high. You've done unbelievably well, football can be cruel. She could do that kick a thousand times and it would never go in the back of the net like it did.
"For us, obviously as a team we were elated to win it but, in that moment, I wasn't feeling happy to be honest. I felt sombre, I didn't feel like I was celebrating, I didn't feel like we'd just won a game to get us to an FA Cup Final. It was such a cruel way to end the game and in the balance of the game, it probably wasn't deserved."
Parris played in the final two years ago as City claimed their first FA Cup win with a 4-1 victory over Birmingham City. Although she wasn't on the scoresheet that day, the experience of winning the trophy in front of 35,000 fans ranks as one of the high points of her career so far.
"It's pure excitement and joy," she said. "If you've ever seen the video, I went crazy, I was so ecstatic.
"It was my first time at Wembley and I'd dreamed as a young girl of playing there, playing in an FA Cup Final, winning the trophy.
"I remember sitting in the stands in 2010 watching Everton beat Arsenal, Tash Dowie scoring the winner, and I went absolutely crazy because I'd just become a part of that team.
"There's no better feeling. Your whole journey is leading to that point, you reflect back on when you were a child - sitting on the couch I used to watch Julie Fleeting score goals for fun in the FA Cup."
City are second in the league and already have a Continental Cup win this season, and Parris was happy to be recognised after a successful campaign. "I think it symbolises our season, we've had a fantastic season," she said. "We haven't been beaten in the league, yet we sit second. If Arsenal go on to lift that trophy it will be fully deserved, but I think our girls have done fantastic throughout the year and it really shows with the awards."
As one of the younger members of the Manchester City squad, goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck has appreciated the guidance of more senior team members. Having joined the club shortly before their first SSE FA Cup win in 2017, Roebuck is likely to be in the squad on 4th May as City look to make it two titles in three years against West Ham.
"We've got some really experienced players, players who have played on the biggest stage," she said. "It's a comfort, knowing that you've got those people around you that you can go to for advice.
"You can ask them about it, if you need anything they've been through it and they know - and it's not always been positive, so they know, they've had those downfalls which make them push us to drive even more to make sure we win."
Roebuck watched as City lifted the title two years ago and would love to be involved this time around, though her experiences under the Wembley arch haven't always been so positive.
"I've actually had some bad memories from Wembley," she laughed. "I'm a big Sheffield United fan, and I've been three times to watch them there and had three losses, so I'm pretty glad I got a win with City and hopefully that can continue. I was sat in the stands for that game, watching on. Even that was special, just to be a part of it.
"I did the warm up and everything, just being on the turf, being out there was brilliant. Hopefully this time will be even more special."
"We're feeling good. You can only think positively about [the final]. Obviously, it's a big game and a big occasion, but all the girls are raring to go. We just want to get out there now.
"It's everyone who plays football's dream, at the biggest stage in England. An FA Cup Final is one of the best things you can be involved in."
As the energy behind women's football, SSE's ambition is to support girls of all ages in England, helping them join in football from grassroots to the elite level. For more information on SSE's sponsorships and activities visit sse.co.uk.
by Sam French, Sportsbeat
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