It was never going to be an easy season for Luton Town. Last night showed why. With their crowd in full voice, they matched West Ham United for effort and vigour every step of the way.

Yet, as they fell to their third Premier League defeat in three – although not by three goals this time - they lacked the more subtle traits of top table mainstays such as their visitors: streetwise guile, game management and most, of all, the sliver of quality which can pluck something from nothing.

Consequentially, nothing is what Luton were left, although Mads Andersen’s late header suggested another quality: this is a team whose heads will not drop. David Moyes, the West Ham manager, noted his team won with more to spare but he had praise for Luton.

“We had to defend really really well tonight. Luton’s style will cause problems.”

Andersen’s consolation in a Championship ground for a team packed with Championship players was from the Championship playbook. A long free kick was headed across goal by Carlton Morris and Andersen nodded home. But teams have survived on less and this was an occasion not without joy.

The last time Kenilworth Road hosted a top tier fixture, back in 1992, Mark Pembridge and Brian Stein scored as a Luton team including debutant Darren Salton dispatched Aston Villa. Unusually for Luton that year and indeed unusually for almost any season during a journey which would take them to locations as exotic as Histon, Hyde and Hayes & Yeading United, the crowd edged into five figures. A sold out Premier League season will overcome that hurdle, but only just.

Luton use the handful of advantages they possess adroitly. They have that cramped ground, so distant from the wide open steppes of West Ham’s London Stadium. They have a fierce, partisan crowd, some of whom are in literal touching distance of the players and they have a fired-up but well-drilled team for whom Morris will score goals and with whom Ross Barkley may yet resurrect a moribund career.

“We have to do better, but I’ve seen enough to make me believe we can survive,” said Rob Edwards, the Luton manager. “There was nothing to fear tonight and nobody could say it wasn’t tight. I saw a team who were compact, aggressive and created chances. We’re on the right track.”

No strangers to hubbub, West Ham bided their time. In the cultured Mexican Edson Alvarez, stationed just ahead of the back four, they had their own midfield fulcrum who ensured Declan Rice’s absence is not felt too keenly. But when the overlapping Alfie Doughty began to get the better of Emerson, there were signs something surprising might be afoot. Luton’s hopes, like their dreams, would soon fade and die.

For all both teams’ hearty endeavour and Jarrod Bowen rattling a drive just wide as the visitors prised themselves into ascendency, neither goalkeeper was called into meaningful action until West Ham scored 37 minutes in with a simple goal.

Alvarez set up Lucas Paqueta some 20 yards out, but Marvelous Nakamba was too slow to close him down. Paqueta crossed deep and Bowen nipped in between Giles and Amari’i Bell to head his third goal in three away games through a woefully flat-footed Thomas Kaminski.

The best teams can overturn a deficit , but, as West Ham tightened the screws, established midfield hegemony and, with Bowen increasingly dominant, powered forwards in search of a match-settling second, it proved beyond the first Premier League Town since Huddersfield were relegated in 2019. When Kurt Zouma firmly headed James Ward-Prowse’s corner past Kaminski, West Ham were ready to coast.

Andersen’s header put paid to that notion, but West Ham were worthy winners and the team who started so slowly last season top the table, for a few hours at least. “I like the sound of that,” smiled Moyes. “We’ve taken a lot of positivity from winning a European trophy: long may it continue.”