Steph Houghton key to England Women World Cup bid, says Phil Neville

England Women manager Phil Neville says Steph Houghton’s absence from their World Cup qualifier will be felt, as he stressed the importance of the captain’s availability for the tournament, should the Lionesses seal a spot at France 2019.

It was revealed on Monday the Manchester City defender will miss Friday’s qualifier against Russia, in order to undergo surgery on a knee injury this week.

England are two points clear at the top of Group A ahead of their trip to Russia, and Neville feels the timing of Houghton’s operation and consequent recovery could prove pivotal in her pre-season preparation.

“It’s disappointing. Steph is a really important player for us on and off the pitch,” Neville told Sky Sports News.

“A lot of the good work the team do off the pitch is led by Steph.

“She was really disappointed at having to pull out of the squad but it’s and injury that’s been niggling her for a while.”

Houghton missed Neville’s first three matches in charge in March this year after withdrawing from the SheBelieves Cup with injury.

“I think the best thing has happened really that she gets the operation does as soon as possible, so then she can get fit for pre-season,” the boss added.

“You look at the big picture and that’s what you’ve got to do with injuries – you’ve got to look, maybe, beyond just one game of football.

“Hopefully, touch wood, we qualify for a World Cup, then pre-season is going to be so important for her to get the basis and the foundation for her to get through a full season.”