After an October which saw us denied by a host of late goals, it was our turn to snatch something at the death in our first two games of November, but the failure to pick up a single win from our five games saw us drop down the table.
Everton are a bogey side for us away from home, but at the Cottage we felt more secure. When Bryan Ruiz put us ahead after only seven minutes, hopes were high but Marouane Fellaini hit two second-half goals to ruin the party before Steve Sidwell arrived in the dying seconds to claim us a point.
Late drama was on the agenda again at the Emirates Stadium as we held Arsenal to a 3-3 draw, having come from 2-0 behind to lead 3-2. It could have been worse but for Mark Schwarzer’s last-gasp penalty save from Mikel Arteta.
Two defeats on the bounce followed. Our 10 men lost 3-1 at home to Sunderland, then it was an away trip to Stoke City which saw us fall 1-0.
The first West London derby of the season arrived at the end of November and it was a decent effort as we went to Stamford Bridge and forced a 0-0 draw against the European champions. A disciplined display against the Blues made sure the month wasn’t a complete washout, but there was certainly room for improvement.
After Bryan Ruiz made an impact off the bench in the previous game against Reading, he was restored to the starting line-up for the game against the Toffees. It took just seven minutes for the Costa Rican to shine as his free-kick was curled over the wall, hit the post and goalkeeper Tim Howard and dropped over the line for the opener. Struggling to gain a foothold in the game after scoring, we let Everton back into it and before half-time the visitors had a number of chances which could have equalled the scores. We held firm until the 55th minute, but Everton scored when Marouane Fellaini swept home a cutback from close range and he then put them ahead on 71 after chesting down a pass to hammer the ball past Mark Schwarzer. Not giving up, the Whites rallied and Sascha Riether’s cross was turned home by substitute Steve Sidwell as the seconds ticked away.
Fireworks were certainly on the agenda in mid-November as we went to the Emirates and scored three goals. We went behind early on as Olivier Giroud met a corner to power home a header in the 11th minute and, as Kieran Richardson was off the field receiving treatment, we let in another on 20 as Lukas Podolski got on the end of a cross. It was a day for aerial prowess and the Whites got back into the game before the break with a header from Dimitar Berbatov. We then grabbed the equaliser when substitute Alexander Kačaniklić’s downward header found the corner of the net after a cross from Berbatov. The momentum was with us in the second half and a good run from Ruiz was ended by Mikel Arteta in the box; Berbatov stroking the penalty home to put us ahead. But Giroud scored another header just two minutes later to ensure our joy was short-lived. The drama was not done, however, as Riether was penalised for handball in the final minute – thankfully Schwarzer proved the better of Arteta in the dying seconds as he tipped the Spaniard’s penalty around the post. Phew!
After such a breathless couple of games, it was probably to be expected that we would not be at our best when Sunderland arrived. Giorgos Karagounis was brought into the side for his full debut but wasn’t able to play his normal game as Captain Brede Hangeland was sent off for a lunge on Lee Cattermole after only 30 minutes. The 10 men battled bravely until the break and almost took the lead as John Arne Riise went close, but Steven Fletcher hit a sucker-punch minutes later as he appeared behind Philippe Senderos to score. Luck was not with us and, although substitute Mladen Petrić levelled matters with a fine finish, Carlos Cuellar exposed our fragility from set-pieces once more and headed home a corner on 65 minutes. Just five minutes later, Stéphane Sessègnon crashed in an effort off the post and it was too much to manage for the tiring Whites. Despite the numerical disadvantage we managed almost twice as many shots as Sunderland, but it just wasn’t to be.
We had obviously used up our quota of thrilling games for November with the previous efforts, as a trip to the Britannia Stadium was not one filled with excitement. With skipper Hangeland suspended after his red card against Sunderland, it was a changed side that arrived in Stoke and Berbatov took the Captain’s armband. A cold and wet afternoon promised little, but Karagounis’ strike that fizzed past the post almost gave our travelling supporters something to cheer about. However, Stoke found the net for the only goal of the game as Peter Crouch climbed highest to head the ball back across to Charlie Adam to slot home in the 26th minute. Despite enjoying long periods of possession for the rest of the game, Fulham were unable to break through and had to face the long trip home in defeat.
The first West London derby of the season came on a Wednesday and saw us line-up in a slightly more defensive 4-4-1-1, with Karagounis playing in the hole behind Berbatov. Keeping our shape well in the opening exchanges, we held off the Blues’ attacks and kept them away from goal for 30 minutes, when Fernando Torres’ effort was the first on target. Subjecting us to an aerial bombardment in the hope of capitalising on our previous issues, Chelsea pushed on but found nothing but White shirts in the way. A superb piece of defending from Aaron Hughes ensured that it stayed goalless in the last 10 minutes when Torres was put through on goal, hit his shot past Schwarzer but found the Northern Irishman on the line! Turkey winger Kerim Frei came on to try and spark a late surge, but his calls for a penalty were waved away and we left our rivals with a well-deserved point.