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Chelsea 3-1 Man Utd: James' hat-trick earns Blues victory
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Rachel Steinberg
Press Association
Lauren James scored a hat-trick for Chelsea
Lauren James scored a hat-trick for Chelsea

Lauren James’ hat-trick lifted Women’s Super League leaders Chelsea to a 3-1 victory over Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.

The major question ahead of kick-off was how Emma Hayes’ reigning champions would cope without striker Sam Kerr, who is set to miss the remainder of the season after rupturing her anterior cruciate ligament earlier this month.

James’ name was among those Hayes said she could rely on to compensate for the Australian’s absence, and on Sunday she did just that, firing her side ahead with a fifth-minute opener and adding another before the break.

Hayley Ladd halved the deficit to keep United in it, but James’ third in the 85th minute ensured the Blues would come away with a three-point lead at the top of the table.

Chelsea, playing in front of a crowd of 20,473, applied early pressure and it paid off when Johanna Rytting Kaneryd slipped the ball to James, who finished into the bottom-right corner.

The Blues continued to dominate, much to the chagrin of Manchester United boss Marc Skinner, who at one point released his frustration in the form of a fist-clenched scream that could be heard around the entire ground.

Skinner’s afternoon went from bad to worse when Nathalie Bjorn, making her first WSL start for Chelsea since signing from Everton earlier this month, delivered a lovely ball over the top for James to extend the Blues’ lead with a fine low finish in the 23rd minute.

Niamh Charles came close to making it three when she was inches away from tucking in a cross at the back post, while Geyse at last called Hannah Hampton into action with a sharp effort from the right.

The visitors were finally finding a foothold in the contest when Ladd pounced on a loose ball after Lucia Garcia’s initial effort was blocked and swept home from six yards in the 43rd minute.

United were much livelier at the start the second half as Chelsea somehow survived a sustained scramble inside the penalty area to preserve their lead.

James sent an effort just wide and nearly turned provider when Bjorn rose to meet her cross, but England goalkeeper Mary Earps ensured the header was safely turned away.

Skinner, who had appeared more encouraged by his side’s second-half effort, flew back into a fury when Leah Galton’s promising run into the penalty area was halted by Ashley Lawrence’s challenge and the United forward fell to the ground but, with no VAR, protests to referee Abigail Byrne were ignored.

Play carried on and Skinner’s side soon found themselves further behind when James broke clear one-on-one with Earps and capitalised to complete her hat-trick, with neither side able to find the finishing touch on a flurry of late chances.

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