They dared to dream but in the end had to concede that the FA Cup does not always yield fairytales. Paulton Rovers, the village team from Somerset, had the honour of playing in the first round for the first time and the excitement of a moment in the national spotlight, but found their opponents to be as ruthlessly professional as they had been generous hosts.
Delia Smith waved enthusiastically to the Paulton fans and was charmingly appreciative of the hospitality in the clubhouse but Paul Lambert's team, more or less at full strength, stepped well clear of potential banana skins on the pitch. The five-tier gap between the sides could not have been more clearly underlined.
The Norwich goalkeeper, Declan Rudd, was obliged to make the first meaningful save, tipping a lob from Paulton's James Tyrrell over the bar, and the striker Rob Claridge had a header blocked from the subsequent corner, but once Grant Holt had headed the League One side in front after 14 minutes, there was never a feeling around the tiny Winterfield Road ground that an upset was possible.
Holt, an old-fashioned centre forward, headed in again before half-time, taking his tally for the season to 14 in all competitions, and striking partner, Chris Martin, who slotted home in between as defenders appealed for offside, wound up with four. Wes Hoolahan, the dynamo in the Norwich midfield, was the other name on the scoresheet.
Claridge, one of three Paulton players employed in their manager Andy Jones's wholesale florists business, drew a brilliant reflex save from Rudd early in the second period but that was as close as Paulton were to go to a goal of their own. The consolation would have been well received by a crowd of 2,000 – another first in a village of fewer than 5,000 – but Jones acknowledged that the scoreline had told the story accurately enough.
"I've told my players not to be despondent because we have been beaten by a very good side who will be strong contenders for promotion from their League," he said. "Bristol Rovers let five in against them and they are full time so it is no disgrace. My lads have jobs and train two nights a week.
"We tried to play football and maybe that was my downfall but we don't know any other way. But their manager picked his strongest team and that was a compliment to us."
Fitness was an issue in the end, not surprisingly. Four of Norwich's goals came inside the last 16 minutes, Martin claiming three of his four in the space of nine with a tap-in, a direct free-kick and a header. The 20-year-old, given his head by Lambert after failing to convince former manager Glenn Roeder, had never before scored away from Carrow Road, although he has a Wembley Cup final goal on his CV from his loan spell at Luton last season, helping them to win the Johnstone's Paint Trophy.
Promotion from Division One (South and West) of the Zamaretto League is next on Paulton's agenda. "That's the target," Jones added. "This has been a great day for the club financially and one we will never forget but promotion to the next level is what we are about and hopefully some of those who have seen us today will come back to support us in that goal."Reuse content