Two goals from Ji So-Yun completed a fine comeback from the Blues to earn a point at the home of the WSL leaders.
Despite making a strong start to a second meeting against a side we know all too well, and almost scoring twice inside the opening 10 minutes, we found ourselves trailing by two at the interval as two turnovers were punished by Manchester City, who led through excellent finishes by Tessa Wullaert and Georgia Stanway.
The response in the second half saw us produce arguably our best 45 minutes of the season, as we quickly got ourselves back into the contest through a precise strike from Ji and we looked to ride the momentum to an equaliser as City were forced to throw bodies on the line to keep us out. However, finally our pressure told and it was Ji once again who provided the telling moment, this time from a free-kick, as we took a well deserved point.
While the home side retained the same starting XI from the Continental Tyres League Cup semi-final, which they won through two goals from Nikita Parris, Emma Hayes opted to revert back to the same team which had won so impressively away at Arsenal a month ago. That meant five changes from Wednesday's match, with Hannah Blundell, Jonna Andersson, Drew Spence, Sophie Ingle and Karen Carney all back in the line-up. There was also a return to a four-player defence after the manager had switched things up in midweek.
Just as in our victory at Arsenal, we started brightly against one of our big rivals in the WSL and two excellent opportunities fell to Bethany England inside the first 10 minutes. The home side were guilty of overplaying at the back, which gifted a clean sight of goal to our No15 inside the area and though she connected well with her finish, Karen Bardsley was on hand to pull off a fine save. Then, from our next attack, England was able to turn and drive for goal, but again the City keeper was well placed to deny her.
The frustration of those near misses was exacerbated when Nick Cushing's side took the lead in the 12th minute. Wullaert was the scorer, taking advantage of a mistake by Millie Bright and sliding a neat finish past Hedvig Lindahl. We'd only conceded one goal away from home in the WSL all season prior to that.
The response from Chelsea was almost immediate, as Ji smashed a left-footer which Bardsley, who had gifted her possession, did well to keep out – but our task was about to become doubly difficult as we conceded a second. Lindahl had made two vital interventions in the minutes leading up to the goal, but there was nothing she could do about an accurate strike from Stanway which went in via a touch off the far post.
Despite our best efforts, we struggled to create any clear-cut opportunities for the remainder of the first half, with City happy to take the sting out of the game and look to hit us on the counter. There was plenty of work to be done by Hayes during her half-time team talk.
Clearly, whatever the manager said during the break had a positive effect, as the Blues began the second half on the front foot. One early attack saw both England and Spence denied from inside the box and despite the home side almost netting on the counter, when Lindahl pulled off a stunning stop to tip Caroline Weir's shot onto the post, we got ourselves back in the contest through Ji.
Cuthbert was instrumental in the build-up, showing good hustle to get to a weak Bardsley clearance ahead of Stokes, and the Scot played the ball into the area for Spence to chest into the path of England, who in turn laid it off for Ji to drill her shot through a defender's legs and into the back of the net.
There was a noticeable change in the minutes which followed the goal, as City's defence dropped ever deeper in the face of continuous Chelsea pressure and they were called upon to make some last-ditch blocks to prevent a succession of shots getting through to Bardsley. However, it was by no means one-way traffic, as the pace of Parris, which had caused us many a headache on Wednesday night, came to the fore when she burst clear, only to send her finish wide of the far post.
With the Blues on top, Hayes looked to press home our territorial advantage by introducing Fran Kirby and Ramona Bachmann from the bench and though we continued to dominate, there was another chance for Parris at the other end. It was a virtually identical opening to the one presented to her a few minutes before and again she shot wide.
The two substitutes combined shortly afterwards to create our best opportunity since the goal, and it took two heroic interventions from Beattie to prevent us equalising. After Bachmann had jinked past her marker down the left, she squared for Kirby to tee up Ji, who saw her goal-bound effort blocked and the City defender had the presence of mind to scramble across to deny England from the follow up.
Two even better chances were presented to Kirby soon after, as Cuthbert picked her out completely unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box, but the England centre-forward couldn't control her volley and it drifted well wide of the target. She didn't make the same mistake with the next one, connecting sweetly with a half-volley that Bardsley spectacularly turned away.
It was looking like this contest would have to be chalked down as one of those days, but then, finally, Lady Luck smiled upon us. After Spence was brought down on the edge of the box, Ji stepped up to take the free-kick and it took a huge deflection to spin up and over Bardsley to hit the back of the net. Few could argue our second-half performance hadn't deserved a touch of good fortune, and yet another WSL meeting between the sides finished all square. That's now four in a row and this may well have been the pick of the bunch.
The league now takes a backseat for 10 days, as our attention instead turns to our defence of the Women's FA Cup. Arsenal are the visitors to Kingsmeadow next Sunday in a repeat of last season's final, and then a few days later we host Bristol City in the league.
Manchester City Bardsley, Stokes, Beattie, Houghton (c), Bonner, Walsh, Scott, Weir (Campbell 90), Wullaert (Hemp 79), Stanway, Parris (Beckie 90)
Unused subs Roebuck, Morgan, Emslie, Bremer
Scorers Wullaert 12, Stanway 24
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Lindahl; Blundell, Bright, Eriksson, Andersson; Spence, Ingle (Bachmann 76); Cuthbert, Ji, Carney (c) (Kirby 63); England
Unused subs Berger, Asante, Carter, Riley, Cooper
Scorer Ji 50, 89
Booked Bright 6, Spence 18