Lauren James’ imperious hat-trick led Chelsea to an important 3-1 win over Manchester United in an end to end game at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
James, who was named in the FIFA Pro XI earlier this week, netted twice in the first half before Manchester United hit back through Hayley Ladd just before half time.
The Chelsea forward sealed the result in the 86th minute to keep The Blues three points clear of Arsenal at the top of the Women’s Super League (WSL).
Speaking about James, Emma Hayes said: “I’ve never seen a player like Lauren doing the things she does.
“She’s so explosive, got a left and right foot; Lauren can do it on both feet. She carried out the game plan and her role in the game plan to perfection.”
Chelsea had started the game brightly and Hayes’ side were rewarded for their early dominance in the fifth minute.
Johanna Rytting-Kaneryd found space in the box and laid the ball off to Lauren James who finished clinically with the outside of her right foot to give Chelsea an early lead.
James netted her second in the 23rd minute, as she hammered home a superb half volley for her ninth goal of the season after an inch perfect pass from defender Nathalie Bjorn.
The England international completed another fine hat-trick after she latched onto a flick-on by Sjoeke Nusken, before finishing in the inevitable fashion that Chelsea fans have become accustomed to seeing this season.
The score-line, however, did not reflect the story of the 90 minutes in a game where Chelsea were made to fight hard to maintain full control.
After a sluggish start, Manchester United recovered strongly towards the end of the first half and hit back through Hayley Ladd in the 43rd minute.
Geyse, who was United’s biggest threat in the first half, beat captain Niamh Charles to the ball on the right hand side and fired in a cross that eventually fell to Ladd who fired in after an initial shot was blocked.
United’s dominance continued into the second half, but manager Marc Skinner will rue his side’s indecisiveness in front of goal as they failed to capitalise on the multiple dangerous attacking positions they got themselves into.
Skinner was also visibly unhappy with the referee, who waved away an appeal for a penalty after goal scorer Ladd went down under the challenge of Ashley Lawrence in the 75th minute.
Skinner said: “I still believe in my personal opinion, she hasn’t dived – there’s enough contact for me.
“If we get that we have a chance to make it 2-2 and we are in the ascendancy.”
Whilst securing a fairy-tale ending with a treble may seem far off for Hayes and her team, another momentum building win over a close rival has ensured it is still a difficult but realistic possibility.
Hayes was pleased with her side and said: “Today was our best performance of the season – it was brave, it looked like the standards we set.”
After Sam Kerr’s anterior cruciate ligament injury ruled her out for the rest of the season, there had been a concern as to whether Chelsea would be able to continue their high scoring form without the Australian striker.
A result and performance of the highest quality has settled any doubts that lingered over the absence of Chelsea’s top scorer.
Chelsea return to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday to face Real Madrid, in what promises to be another tense encounter as the Blues look to secure top spot in their Champions League group.