Luton boss Graeme Jones conceded it wasn't a level playing field at Craven Cottage last night for the Hatters' Championship clash against an expensively assembled Fulham side.
The Cottagers’ hat-trick hero on the night in a 3-2 win for the hosts was striker Aleksander Mitrovic, a Serbian international who cost £22m from Newcastle United, while in defence was ex-Hatters loanee Alfie Mawson, whom the Whites snapped up for a mere £20m from Swansea in the summer of 2018.
Home boss Scott Parker could also field Joe Bryan (£6m) and Tom Cairney (£2.8m), plus a loan trio to Anthony Knockaert, Bobby Decordova-Reid and Ivan Cavaleiro, who cost their parent clubs a combined £20m
That took the Fulham starting 11 to a total of around £70m, with Denis Odoi and Tim Ream also joining for undisclosed fees and midfielder Harrison Reed on loan from Southampton, with only keeper Marek Rodak a homegrown player.
Looking at the Hatters, they were put together for not even a fraction of the price, with only Matty Pearson, James Collins, Harry Cornick and Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu costing fees when signed from Barnsley, Crawley, Bournemouth and West Ham respectively.
Despite the gulf in spending, Jones was left annoyed his side hadn’t got something from the game, as he said: “I think we were joint fifth top scorers coming into the game, that’s Luton Town, but with the greatest respect, the budgets tonight, you have to speak about, as it’s not a level playing field.
“I think they can learn a lot from coming up against Fulham’s style of play.
“I’m talking about Cairney and Knockaert and Mitrovic and Breem, he was exceptional on the ball.
"Bryan the left back, Mawson, was Mawson £20m? So that’s one player.
"Harrison Reed, somebody we liked in the summer, you’re not going to get anywhere near, and we acquitted ourselves really, really well, but as you know, I want to win.
“So for us to achieve that at Fulham, is good, but we want to win football matches.
"That’s what we’re here for and there’s another level again we need to go to be killers, to be ruthless, to do whatever it takes to win the game.
"We are getting there, we are definitely getting there, but it's just frustrating that we’ve taken a little step back tonight.”
After weathering the opening 15 minute storm from the hosts, the Hatters were then caught out by a defensive error at the back, with Matty Pearson's pass inside picked off and Mitrovic given space to turn and fire beyond James Shea.
Jones said: "I’ve not seen the goal, I just remember Mitrovic getting free and it was a lethal finish.
"If you’re talking about making sure you score, rather than hoping you score, that’s what you pay big money for.
"But I’ll have to look at that from a tactical point of view, see where we were, it’s not clear right now, I've just seen that Mitrovic scores.”
Although Fulham have loftier ambitions than the Hatters this season, with a return to the Premier League at the forefront of their minds, Jones conceded there was still a feeling of disappointment form his players they hadn't left with a point.
He continued: “The players are upset that they didn’t get something out of the game and rightly so, that’s what we’re here for.
“I encourage that. I don’t want to say, 'well played, unlucky, we got beat 3-2,' no.
"We’re here to get something from the game, a positive result from the game, never get beat, never on a football pitch, we have to have that attitude.
"I’ve told them that after the game, and I’m not having a go at them, I’m talking about that last little bit of progression, and the boys have got it in them, so we’ll keep working.”
Town were given a fine reception from their near enough 2,000 travelling fans who were in great voice throughout the night at Craven Cottage, easily out singing a quite home crowd.
Jones added: “We were in League One four months ago and they were in the Premier League.
"I think our fans are so intelligent, they know effort, they know quality, they know when we have a go which is the majority of times and they respect that.
"They understand where we are and the fans have been magnificent from minute one, but we want to give them more than a 3-2 defeat.”