The Blues suffered a first-leg defeat in our Champions League semi-final but the tie is still very much alive ahead of next week’s home leg thanks to an Erin Cuthbert goal.
It could have been even more finally balanced had we not had a penalty saved and missed another couple of good opportunities in open play.
Paired against the reigning European champions and playing in Lyon’s impressive main stadium in front of a crowd of over 20,000 (a record for any game in this competition outside of the final), Chelsea certainly looked like we belong at this level in what was the second European semi-final in our history.
We were 2-0 down at half-time but fresh from her nomination for the PFA Women’s Player of the Year yesterday, Cuthbert finished off an incisive move with just under 20 minutes to play to leave the tie finely balanced, and register what might prove to be a vital away goal.
After a solid start to today’s game in central France, we went behind to an own-goal scored by Magda Eriksson, making it an eight days to forget for our unlucky Swedish international who suffered the same fate in the dying seconds of last weekend’s cup defeat at Manchester City.
A goal conceded from a corner and scored by Armandine Henry compounded the misery not long after but a golden chance for the Blues to take a firm foothold in the tie came on the stroke of half-time when we were awarded a penalty for a foul on Ramona Bachmann. Regrettably, Kirby’s effort was saved.
Karen Carney had a chance before that, and Maren Mjedle drew a save early in the second half, but thankfully there was no keeping out Cuthbert’s later strike.
Secure your place now for the second leg at Kingsmeadow, which is also the last home game of the season, next Sunday (28 April). Tickets for juniors under 20 and seniors 65 and over are free. All other tickets are £6.
Emma Hayes made only one change to the side that had lost in such agonising circumstances in the FA Cup at Man City a week ago.
Ji So-Yun came into midfield in place of Drew Spence. Kirby played on her own upfront with Bachmann wide out on the right. Sophie Ingle was the deepest of the midfield players.
We had reached this stage of the competition by disposing of another French side, Paris St-Germain, in dramatic circumstances with a very late winner in the French capital. Now we faced the European champions for the previous three seasons running, but knowing that we were to take them back to Kingston for the second leg, the reverse order from that PSG tie, and indeed a year ago in our first Champions League semi when Wolfsburg from Germany proved a step too far.
Twelve months on, there was little of concern for Chelsea in the first 15 minutes of this game. Prior to the game, Hayes had warned that games are often over against Lyon inside that period and opposition teams need to use their heads against them. So far, her players were doing just that.
On 17 minutes came the first real chance of the game. Lucy Bronze managed to muscle her way past her England colleague Carney and cross. Ann-Katrin Berger made a good save from Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg.
A couple minutes later at the other end, Kirby got the better of Bronze but unfortunately the ball crossed the byline before she could cross.
Chelsea continued to grow in confidence and began to find some spaces. We were certainly playing better than for most of the game in Paris.
But then on 27 minutes came the horrible moment for poor Eriksson. The pacy Delphine Cascarino collected a long pass and attacked Jonna Andersson. She found space and fired the ball towards the near post where our unfortunate Swede’s stretch turned it past Berger.
Ten minutes later we were 2-0 down. A corner was conceded when Mjelde’s header back gave Berger too much to do, and when the set-piece delivery arrived at the near post, Henry got the faintest of touches to help it on its way in.
Chelsea could have landed what would have been an important blow back almost straightaway. Confusion at the back from the home side when Bachmann crossed allowed Carney to latch onto a loose ball inside the area, but her shot was blocked.
An even greater chance of an away goal came and went with the last kick of the first half. Bachmann, who had burst through one tackle, was tripped from behind in the penalty area by Eugenie Le Sommer and a spot-kick was awarded. Kirby struck it down the middle but Sarah Bouhaddi saved.
Kirby understandably looked distraught. Hayes’s side had not played badly but were two goals down. Work needed to boost morale before the second 45 minutes.
The Blues continued to show we could cause Lyon problems on their own turf immediately after the restart. Both Selma Bacha and Wendie Renard failed to deal with a dropping ball and making a similar run to her one for the winner in the last round, Mjelde was suddenly in on goal. Bouhaddi saved with her leg.
Her opposite number, Berger, made a sharp save from Le Sommer with 56 minutes on the clock. That was during a strong spell for the home side.
Hayes reacted by bringing on Beth England for Kirby and the new striker was involved in the Chelsea goal on 72 minutes. Ji chipped a ball forward, England headed it back down and Cuthbert from the edge of the area found the bottom corner with a bouncing shot.
Before the end England drilled a shot of her own wide, and Berger was busy on a couple of occasions in the Chelsea goal, but the Blues had shown we can cause Lyon problems. It will be a fascinating second leg next Sunday.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Berger; Mjelde, Bright, Eriksson, Andersson; Ingle; Bachmann (Engman 78), Ji (Spence 90+2), Cuthbert, Carney (c); Kirby (England 69).
Unused subs Lindahl, Blundell, Thorisdottir, Carter.
Scorer Cuthbert 72
Lyon (4-3-3): Bouhaddi; Bronze, M’Bock Bathy, Renard, Bacha; Marozsan, Henry, Fishlock (Kumagai 81); Cascarino (Majri 83), Hegerberg, Le Sommer.
Unused subs Weiss, Van de Sanden, Buchanan, Jaimes, Simon.
Scorers Eriksson o.g. 27, Henry 38.
Referee Katalin Kulcsar