Chelsea treble hopes ended as Mary Earps inspires Man Utd Women to revenge victory

Aoife Mannion and Mary Earps of Manchester United Women celebrate the team's victory after the Adobe Women's FA Cup Semi Final match between Manchester United Women and Chelsea Women at Leigh Sports Village on April 14, 2024 in Leigh, England
Manchester United will take on Tottenham in the Women's FA Cup final on May 12 - Getty Images/Charlotte Tattersall

Man Utd Women 2 Chelsea Women 1

If Mary Earps had a point to prove after being dropped by England she did so emphatically with a save-of-the-season candidate to help put Manchester United into the Women’s FA Cup final.

Big games turn on big moments and the acrobatic, clawing stop to prevent Lauren James equalising in the second half of a gripping semifinal at Leigh Sports Village left Earps punching the air in satisfaction.

United held out thereafter - despite two penalty claims for Chelsea which manager Emma Hayes was convinced should have been given - to set off euphoric celebrations.

After being left out of the England side that beat the Republic of Ireland in favour of Chelsea’s Hannah Hampton, Earps now has a Wembley date with United on May 12 against Tottenham to look forward to.

The identity of the finalists means there will be a changing of the guard at the top of English women’s football with a first domestic trophy for a decade going outside the big three of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.

United looked like they might be the team to break the stranglehold last season only to end up as the nearly side as runners-up in both the league and the FA Cup.

Their modest league campaign this time around will all be forgotten if they can follow up their first win over Chelsea since being reformed in 2018 with victory in the final against Tottenham on May 12.

United manager Marc Skinner’s decision to include Leah Galton and Rachel Williams paid off.

Galton provided the assist for the opening goal after just 41 seconds, cashing in on an error by Chelsea full-back Eve Perisset to send over a cross which Lucia Garcia headed home to give United a dream start.

Lucia Garcia of Manchester United celebrates scoring her team's first goal during the Adobe Women's FA Cup Semi Final match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Leigh Sports Village on April 14, 2024 in Leigh, England
Lucia Garcia opened the scoring in the first minute - Getty Images/Alex Livesey

Then Williams headed home her tenth goal of the season to double the lead after 24 minutes following some trickery down the left from Ella Toone that left Melanie Leopolz beaten all ends up.

Those goals gave United something to hold onto and even though Lauren James pulled a goal back in added time at the end of the first half they managed to do so.

At times it was skin-of-the-teeth stuff with Chelsea applying considerable pressure but in Earps they had a figure made for the occasion.

If the diving first half save to keep out James’s header was notable, the repeat six minutes after the interval was truly exceptional.

“LJ does that quite a bit, she leaps and hangs quite late so I was just trying to stay in it. We were all on it today; we wanted to win so badly,” said Earps.

“It’s heavy when things don’t go our way all year in the league. It’s been really difficult. Today the girls were unbelievable. It was ugly, it was horrible but we don’t care because we won.”

Chelsea, who hit the bar directly from a corner delivered by Catarina Macario, had two second half penalty appeals turned down which had Hayes bemoaning the fact that there was no VAR in operation.

The first came when Johanna Rytting Kaneryd’s shot struck the arm of Katie Zelem and then Hayes was left shaking her head again when Niamh Charles went down in a tackle by Williams.

“I just can’t see how the officials can’t give those penalties,” said Hayes.

“To help our officials we have to have technology in our game. We’ll have it in the FA Cup final and the Champions League final but it’s got to be all in or all out.”

After their League Cup final defeat to Arsenal and this, the quadruple quest is now down to a more modest double pursuit.

Hayes’s grand farewell is in danger of unravelling.

Match details

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): Earps 7; Mannion 7, Le Tissier 7, Turner 8, Blundell 6; Zelem 8, Naalsund 7; Garcia 8, Toone 8 (Ladd 60, 6)), Galton 7 (Parris 70, 7); Williams 7 (Mallard 70, 6).
Chelsea (4-4-2): Hampton 7; Perriset 5 (Lawrence 81), Carter 7, Buchanan 6 (Macario 70, 6), Charles 7; Cuthbert 7 (Kirby 76), Leupolz 6;  Rytting Kaneryd 7 (Beever-Jones 76), Reiten 6 (Nusken 70, 6); James 8, Ramirez 7.
Referee: Kirsty Dowle 6.