There are few better presents you can give an 18-year-old for their birthday than a start for Manchester United. Throw in that it is their first start in the top-flight and it gets even better, making Saturday a day to remember for Lauren James.
But not only that, it was a Saturday for all of United to remember, as the teenager galvanised their attack and inspired them to a 2-0 win over Liverpool – scoring the Red Devils' first goal as they claimed their first ever points in the Women’s Super League.
With Jane Ross suffering with illness, it was James leading the line for Casey Stoney’s side, the day before she would celebrate the milestone.
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While Ross provides experience, England youth international James brings fluidity and dynamism to an attack that were yet to score in the league this season, something Stoney will have appreciated as her side claimed their first victory since promotion from the Women’s Championship.
The tactics board in the home dressing room may have read Jess Sigsworth on the right, James through the middle and Leah Galton on the left, but on the pitch that changed frequently, with midfielder Ella Toone also getting involved in dragging Liverpool’s defence out of place.
It was James’ quick footwork and lightning speed, though, that stole the show and provided United a spark that that was needed even more given midfielder Jackie Groenen was not fit enough to make the squad.
Her hunger to play and prove herself is a key reason why the teenager is rated so highly. After struggling for first team chances at Arsenal, she joined United as a 16-year-old last summer in their first season since the women’s team had been relaunched.
Twelve starts in the Championship brought 14 goals for the forward, her bold gamble in moving paying off and making her one to watch this year.
And after back-to-back appearances from the bench, this was James’ chance to impress and she was in no mood to let it pass by.
Stoney had stressed after 1-0 defeats to Manchester City and Arsenal that the main thing her team needed to start doing was take their chances.
“It was a repeat of not taking our chances,” she said after losing to the Gunners. “We had a good chance in the first half, a good chance in the second half and I just said to them it’s about fine margins, it really is.”
James was the player to bring that clinical edge. She could have had two goals on the day if it was not for the crossbar, which denied her just before half-time.
It looked inevitable that the 17-year-old would be the one to break the deadlock, and Liverpool helped her do so when they played their way into trouble 20 minutes from time.
Sigsworth pounced and found James, whose quick feet cleared the way for her to fire the ball into the bottom corner with aplomb, with Katie Zelem ensuring the three points in stoppage time from the spot.
Scoring goals, creating chances and generally wreaking havoc: James’ WSL debut had it all.
And after an individual performance like that, which inspired a winning team performance in the process, it is clear the teenager’s shift from a fringe team player to guaranteed starter will not take long.