HARTLEPOOL United will this weekend host an international friendly match between England and Sweden at Victoria Park.
And former Sunderland defender Steph Houghton cannot wait to lead her team-mates out on home soil for what she believes will be the “perfect test” ahead of a crucial qualifier.
The international women’s match this Sunday, August 3 (KO 2pm) is England’s last match before a qualifier against Wales where one point will see Mark Sampson’s side qualify for the FIFA 2015 Women’s World Cup, in Canada.
Captain Houghton, who now plays for newly formed Manchester City, believes taking on Sweden will act as the perfect preparation for the crunch Wales match on August 21.
Houghton, 26, said: “It’s probably a perfect test for us ahead of the Wales qualifier.
“We’ve got a team full of world class individuals and as a team we want to be playing against those types of players.
“It’s about a winning mentality.
“The games we go into we want to win and we want to win well and we want to perform, it’s all about playing for your places still.”
The former Sunderland defender insists although it is a friendly by name, it will still be a competitive encounter.
“It’s important that when we’re in training it’s really competitive and we take that into the game, especially on Sunday,” added Houghton.
“They’ve got players that can win football matches.
“Obviously Lotta Schelin plays up front for them and she’s been a massive name in women’s football for a good few years.
“They’re direct, they’re quick, skilful – a mixture really – and I think it’s about how we cope with that both tactically and technically. It’s also about how we move the ball and defend as a unit.”
Houghton, who left Arsenal to join newly formed Manchester City in January 2014, admitted leading her country out in front of a local crowd will be an honour but insisted attention will quickly shift to the task in hand.
Houghton, who was talking to the FA’s website, added: “All the north-east girls have been pushing for a fixture up north for a long time and it obviously makes it a lot easier when your friends and family can come and watch you play.
“But the most important part of it is the actual game. We’re playing Sweden and it’s going to be a good test for us and hopefully we’ll have a big crowd coming to support us.”
The Lionesses have been training at St George’s Park in preparation for Sunday’s fixture against the side who sit fifth in the FIFA rankings.
The game will also see Jordan Nobbs follow in the footsteps of her father, Pools favourite Keith.
Arsenal midfielder Jordan, 21, already has 11 England caps, scoring three goals and is hoping to play on the ground where her no-nonsense defender dad made 327 appearances for Pools between 1985 and 1993.
Jordan said: “This is a huge highlight for me.
“To be right on my doorstep, where my dad played for years, is fantastic. I’ve been looking forward to this game for ages.
“It’s a special thing to have an England team in the area and this is definitely a game that will get the fans excited.”
Tickets for the match are on sale now priced £5 for adults and £2.50 for children. A family ticket (two adults and two children) is available at £10 and group booking discounts apply.
Tickets can be purchased by calling (01429) 272584 (option 2), via TheFA.com’s ticketing page or at the Hartlepool United ticket office in Clarence Road.
England squad in full
Karen Bardsley (Manchester City), Siobhan Chamberlain (Arsenal), Carly Telford* (Notts County).
Gemma Bonner (Liverpool), Lucy Bronze (Liverpool), Alex Greenwood (Everton), Steph Houghton (Manchester City), Alex Scott (Arsenal), Demi Stokes (University of South Florida).
Laura Bassett (Chelsea), Jade Moore (Birmingham City), Jill Scott (Manchester City), Fara Williams (Liverpool), Jo Potter** (Birmingham City), Jordan Nobbs (Arsenal).
Karen Carney (Birmingham City), Eniola Aluko (Chelsea), Jess Clarke (Notts County), Natasha Dowie (Liverpool), Toni Duggan (Manchester City), Fran Kirby (Reading), Lianne Sanderson (Boston Breakers), Jodie Taylor (Washington Spirit).
* replaced Rachel Brown-Finnis
** replaced Dunia Susi