Ladies report: Montpellier 0 Chelsea 2

Chelsea Ladies took a big step towards the last four of the Champions League with an impressive win away at Montpellier in the first leg of our quarter-final tie, with second-half goals from Ji So-Yun and substitute Erin Cuthbert securing a 2-0 victory.

There was little to choose between the teams in the first half, with Ramona Bachmann and Drew Spence going closest for the Blues, but three minutes after the restart So-Yun collected a Fran Kirby pass and finished brilliantly to give us the lead, before Cuthbert headed home from a Magdalena Eriksson corner shortly after coming on to cap a memorable victory.

We now go into next week’s return at Kingsmeadow in a strong position, but with plenty of work still to be done.

Hedvig Lindahl came back into the starting line-up in goal and the back three, with Maren Mjelde operating as the central figure, remained unchanged from the weekend win over Liverpool.

Maria Thorisdottir and Hannah Blundell started as the two wing-backs and Spence was tasked with providing the creativity in behind strikers Kirby and Bachmann.

Karen Carney and Deanna Cooper missed out through injury while Jonna Andersson was cup-tied.

Former Chelsea striker Sofia Jakobsson, meanwhile, started up front for Montpellier.

It was the hosts who threatened first and we had Millie Bright to thank as the defender produced a well-timed tackle to thwart Jakobsson as she looked set to get her shot away, and from their next attack, just five minutes in, Montpellier almost broke the deadlock.

Laetitia Tonazzi delivered a cross from the right-hand side and as Virginia Torrecilla arrived in the box and headed towards goal, Lindahl did brilliantly to get down and push the ball onto the post, gratefully collecting it in her hands at the second attempt.

Emma Hayes had spoken about the French side’s attacking threat in her pre-match press conference and it was evident early on at the Stade de la Mosson.

Our first opportunity of the game arrived after 12 minutes as Bachmann raced into the penalty area from the left, her angled drive was well struck but Casey Murphy, in the Montpellier goal, stood strong and pushed the ball away to safety.

Moments later Murphy was called into action once again, the goalkeeper making a smart stop down to her right to deny Spence, who had fired towards goal after intelligently exchanging passes with Bachmann.

As the first half progressed it was the Blues – all in white – seeing more of the ball but after those two opportunities in quick succession, clear-cut chances were proving difficult to come by.

At the other end Eriksson, under pressure, dealt with a dangerous delivery superbly by heading the ball away from the danger zone, and as we moved upfield a chance to cause Montpellier problems was passed up with Kirby adjudged to have strayed offside as she collected a Bachmann pass.

Kirby then produced a delightful piece of play, getting away from two Montpellier defenders thanks to her quick feet and fantastic technical ability, but as she drove the ball towards goal it was headed clear.

The Chelsea forward’s influence was growing as the half edged towards its conclusion and she was the architect of our next opportunity, which ended with Thorisdottir having three attempts at goal, all of which were blocked as Montpellier defended desperately in order to prevent the Blues from scoring a potentially crucial away goal.

Hayes’s side started the second half on the front foot and just three minutes in we took the lead with a brilliantly-crafted goal.

Mjelde played the ball forward to Kirby from deep and the forward, looking up, spotted the run of So-Yun and slipped her through, with the South Korean drilling her strike into the bottom corner to make it 1-0 to the Blues.

Just four minutes later, however, Montpellier could – and should – have been level as Jakobsson latched onto a ball out from the back, and although Mjelde did well to put her under pressure the Swede was only denied by a superb Lindahl save.

Chances continued to come and we were unfortunate not to extend our advantage when Bachmann rounded Murphy and saw her strike from a tight angle crash against the outside of the post just before the hour mark.

Kirby and Bachmann were looking a real threat and the latter went close again after the duo had linked up well, with her left-footed strike taking a deflection when she looked set to double our advantage.

Despite our lead, and the fact we continued to look dangerous, Montpellier remained a threat and they went close to equalising when Lindahl was forced to race off her line in an attempt to thwart the marauding Jakobsson. As our former striker crossed from out wide, Tonazzi headed just past the post.

With 23 minutes remaining the French side then saw their best opportunity of the game up until that point go begging when Katrine Veje’s low drive came back off the foot of the post.

Erin Cuthbert was introduced for the final 19 minutes and the young Scot was unlucky not to score with her first touch as she turned Kirby’s low centre narrowly wide under pressure from a Montpellier defender.

Moments later, though, the substitute’s fortune changed for the better as she made it 2-0 with a potentially decisive goal, her first in the Champions League.

Eriksson swung in a corner from out on the left-hand side and Cuthbert, one of the smallest players on the pitch, rose inside the box to glance a superb header into the far corner.

The second goal couldn’t have come at a better time, and Hayes made her second change of the evening soon after when she replaced Bachmann, who had worked tirelessly throughout, with Eni Aluko, before Claire Rafferty came on for the impressive Kirby for the closing stages.

Despite a spell of late pressure from the home side, the Blues defended well and saw the game out successfully, meaning we go into the second leg at Kingsmeadow next Wednesday with a healthy advantage in the tie.

Chelsea (3-5-2): Lindahl; Bright, Mjelde, Eriksson; Thorisdottir, Chapman (c), Spence (Cuthbert 71), So-Yun, Blundell; Bachmann (Aluko 81), Kirby (Rafferty 86).
Unused subs: Telford, Flaherty, Bailey, Davison.
Scorers
So-Yun 48, Cuthbert 76

Montpellier (4-4-2): Murphy; Torrent, Dekker, Sembrant (c), Karchaoui; Cayman (Gauvin 89), Torrecilla, Toletti, Veje (Leger 80); Tonazzi (Blackstenius 63), Jakobsson.
Unused subs: Gerard, Agard, Le Bihan, Champagnac.

Referee Kateryna Monzul (Ukraine)