Chelsea Women will take a two-goal advantage into the second leg of this Champions League quarter-final after Hannah Blundell's left-footed stunner and a composed finish by Erin Cuthbert saw off PSG.
Having defeated Sarajevo and Fiorentina in the first two rounds by a combined aggregate score of 18-0, it was clear from the first whistle that we were facing an entirely different calibre of opposition, not too dissimilar than what we came up against last term when facing German giants Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg.
That certainly showed throughout a cagey opening 45 minutes, but the Blues played this first leg to perfection in front of a big crowd at Kingsmeadow. Having defended stoically throughout, we burst into life as the game reached its closing stages and Blundell netted a wonderful opener, her fourth of the season, to put us in the ascendancy. When Cuthbert added to it in the final few minutes, it simply added gloss to another wonderful European night in KT1 – but as the manager will be making perfectly clear to her side over the next six days, the job is only half done.
After a gruelling FA Cup quarter-final at Durham on Sunday, Emma Hayes mixed things up by making five changes to her starting line-up for this game. Ann-Katrin Berger came in between the sticks against her former club, replacing Carly Telford. There was also a change in defence. Hannah Blundell, Maren Mjelde and Magdalena Eriksson were retained, but at left-back Jonna Andersson returned in place of Ali Riley. In midfield, Sophie Ingle and Drew Spence were both back in the side, replacing Jess Carter and the suspended Millie Bright, while the trio of attacking midfielders featured a change as Ann-Katrin Berger1 made way for Karen Carney, who lined up alongside Ann-Katrin Berger2 and Ji So-Yun, our match-winner on Sunday. Ann-Katrin Berger0, the Blues' top scorer with 17 goals ahead of kick-off, led the line.
In the build-up to the game, the Blues boss talked up the quality of both her side and our opponents from the French top flight, who are two-time finalists in recent years and hold the distinction of being the last side to eliminate Lyon from this competition in 2015/16. They're also keeping pace with the perennial Ligue 1 champions, trailing them by two points, having only dropped points in two league fixtures this season.
While our WSL title aspirations might be over for this campaign, we're on a good run of form of late, having won four in a row, including two big victories in the league and a pair of FA Cup wins which have taken us into the quarter-finals of the competition.
The magnitude of the occasion attracted a huge crowd to Kingsmeadow, whose number included David Luiz. Between the Brazilian's current spell as a Blue and his first, he spent two years in the French capital, and he was in KT1 to take in the action and spend time mingling with supporters. Another Chelsea legend, Tore Andre Flo, was also in attendance, as was the England Women manager Phil Neville.
It was a feisty start to this contest, particularly from the visitors, as they conceded three free-kicks in as many minutes. The third, a crude lunge which left Ji on the deck and in agony by the halfway line, resulted in a yellow card for Irene Paredes.
With so much football to be played in this tie, both sides were unsurprisingly risk averse, although while PSG had the patience to knock the ball around at the back and tempt Chelsea into a higher press, our passing was a little more direct and not always with accuracy. However, one slide-rule pass from Spence cut through the defence and very nearly sent Cuthbert through on goal, only for Christiane Endler, who was briefly a Blue five years ago, to snuff out the danger at the expense of giving a whack to Perle Morroni.
Cuthbert did manage to break free a few minutes later, as she seized on a mistake in the PSG rearguard to burst away down the right. The Scot opted to take on the shot early and looked to have got plenty behind it, but PSG skipper Paredes got down quickly to block and send the ball spiralling out of play for a corner.
That was the closest either side came to breaking the deadlock in the opening 45 minutes, a clear sign of the dominance of the two defences. PSG responded to their docile first-half performance by introducing Shuang Wang for the second half in place of Aminata Diallo, and it didn't take Hayes long to make a change of her own, replacing Ji with Kirby.
The Blues No14 almost made an immediate impact, racing clear with virtually her first touch of the ball and sending a low finish past Endler and towards the far corner. Time seemed to stand still and the crowd at Kingsmeadow collectively held its breath as the ball trickled agonisingly past the post. Moments later, another palpable hush descended upon our KT1 home as Ashley Lawrence cut in from the left and curled an effort which looked to be heading for the back of the net before Berger threw out a big left hand to palm it to safety.
The introduction of Ramona Bachmann seemed to add more urgency to our attacking play, and the move paid dividends with a little over quarter of an hour to play as the Swiss playmaker started an attack which ended in Blundell scoring what is undoubtedly the most important, and possibly also the best, goal of her Chelsea career. There seemed little on for our right-back when she took possession on the corner of the penalty box, but she sent a looping left-footed effort over Endler and into the far corner to send Kingsmeadow wild. Cue a chorus of 'She's one of our own' from the supporters who have seen her grow from being a part of our Centre of Excellence into a player who is flourishing at the highest level of club football.
Having spoken of the importance of keeping a clean sheet, Hayes certainly would have taken a 1-0 victory at this point, but she may well have revised that statement when Ingle powerfully met a Carney corner with her head and only the post prevented her opening her Blues account. It mattered not, however, for just two minutes our lead had been doubled.
This time last year, Cuthbert scored a vital late second in the first leg of our quarter-final against Montpellier, and she was at it again. How the Scot still had anything left in the tank so late in the contest owes plenty to her fantastic conditioning, and she exchanged passes with Kirby before drilling a low finish past Endler. Cue further bedlam at Kingsmeadow – what a night it had been for the 2,616 supporters in attendance.
The second leg of this Champions League quarter-final tie takes place on Wednesday 27 March and free tickets are available for those wishing to attend, with all the details found here. Between us, the two clubs have won a perfect four out of four when it comes to last-eight ties in this competition, so something has got to give in the French capital next week.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Berger; Blundell, Mjelde, Eriksson, Andersson; Ingle, Spence (Carter 89); Cuthbert, Ji (Kirby 52), Carney; England (Bachmann 59)
Unused subs Lindahl, Riley, Engman, Cooper
Scorers Blundell 73, Cuthbert 88
Booked Cuthbert 90+1
Paris Saint-Germain (4-3-3) Endler; Perisset, Paredes, Berglund, Morroni; Diallo (Wang 46), Formiga, Geyoro; Diani (Bruun 79), Katoto, Lawrence (Baltimore 89)
Unused subs Kiedrzynek, Glas, Cook, Zamanian,
Booked Paredes 4
Referee Ivana Martincic (Croatia)