STYLIANOS Giannakopoulos - the little man with the big shot and even bigger ambition - has fired Wanderers into Euro orbit.

Where they will land will be determined by results between now and Sunday, May 15, but no one at the Reebok is ruling out a Champions League splashdown.

The smart money is still on UEFA Cup qualification but, after completing their best ever phase in four seasons of Premiership football, few would bet against a top four finish.

Stelios issued the latest statement of intent with a goal of pure genius, but the man whose given name is too big for his shirt was not getting too big for his boots as he left for World Cup duties with Greece.

"It is going to be very difficult for us to go for the Champions League, to be honest," he said. "Whatever happens, we'll accept it.

"The first thing for us is to go for Europe. But, if the Champions League comes along, we will not say 'no'."

Unlikely, yes, but by no means impossible for a team with the form, the determination and even the resources Wanderers are taking into the last eight games of a season that was turning sour in December but is looking sweet again.

The fact that they are now being mentioned in the same breath as Liverpool and Everton in the scramble for European places is a testimony in itself to the character of a team Sam Allardyce has fashioned into a formidable fighting force that commands the respect of every Premiership manager and player.

But it begs the question, where would they be today had they not had that treacherous run of six straight defeats at the end of 2004?

They should not, because they are only tormenting themselves, but, after nudging into fifth place, there were players looking at the table and wondering "If only!"

But Gary Speed, the most experienced of all the Premiership campaigners, believes the impressive response to the mid-season slump - Wanderers took just three points from a possible 30 to plummet from fourth to 14th - has shown the depth of character and talent Allardyce now has at his disposal.

"I'll take it if it goes down to the last game of the season," Speed said at the suggestion that the clash with Everton could be decisive.

"If it comes down to that, we might look back and say 'What if we hadn't had that bad spell or at least done a little better in those 10 games?'

"But that just shows the potential we've got here. Confidence was at an all-time low after those six defeats but there was only one way to get out of it and that was by hard work. And it's worked.

"We've got some big games to come but we've proved here this year that we can beat anybody on our day so, hopefully, we can carry that form through to the end of the season.

"But we can't look too far ahead because we'll lose our focus. I don't think you can talk about Champions League or anything else yet. The league is such that, if you lose two or three games, you'll be back down in mid-table again.

"Yes, everybody is talking about Europe but we've got to keep doing the things that have made us successful."

While Speed is working hard to keep a sense of perspective, there are others who are still trying to burst the Bolton bubble.

Critics were murmuring again on Saturday night that the presence of Big Sam's Whites in the top five merely illustrates the dearth of talent in the Premiership.

Just another attempt to put "Little Old Bolton" in their place.

But Wanderers have brought much to the top table of English football in terms of individual skill and collective spirit, which was just too strong for Norwich, who are surely destined for an instant return to the Championship.

No one claimed this was a classic performance, but this is the business end of the season, when results are what matter and seven 1-0 wins since the turn of the year shows that Wanderers have found the formula.

That they could not convert their overwhelming superiority in the first half into more than just a single goal lead, made for a nervy second.

And with Norwich so desperate to keep their survival hopes alive, there was always the danger that Stelios' super strike might not be enough.

Yet it was a worthy matchwinner.

Norwich manager Nigel Worthington is right to suggest that Marc Edworthy's poor headed clearance would not have been punished so decisively in the Championship.

But such is Premiership life. Stelios, whose self-confidence was boosted immeasurably by his European Championship triumph with Greece, fancied a curler into the top corner and had the skill, not only to make room for the shot, but to deliver it with such precision that even such a good young keeper as Robert Green had no chance.

Had Vincent Candela's carbon copy strike a minute later bounced in rather than out off the bar, Wanderers would have coasted it.

But they had been fortunate to survive three dangerous Norwich raids and could not afford to drop their guard with the likes of Damien Francis breaking from midfield and Leon McKenzie and Dean Ashton looking for openings.

But six clean sheets in their last eight Premiership games shows how hard Allardyce has worked at creating a defensive solidity that could be vital in the run-in.

Tal Ben Haim considers Bruno N'Gotty "one of the best defenders in England" but the young Israeli again showed that he is no slouch himself, while Darren Huckerby will come across few full-backs who will snuff him out as effectively as Nicky Hunt.

There were encouraging signs from the attack-minded Candela-Ricardo Gardner left-wing combination but Allardyce might urge the Frenchman to be a little less cavalier.

But the manager has no reservations at all about the flawless Fernando Hierro.

Thirty-seven on Wednesday and planning to retire this summer, the former Real Madrid legend showed yet again that, whether it's the Premiership, La Liga, The Bundesliga or Serie A, there is no substitute for class.

Ivan Campo, who sat on the bench alongside Jay Jay Okocha, can have no complaints.

His old Bernabeu team-mate has looked decidedly more composed, more productive and altogether more effective in the holding midfield role he must have thought was his for keeps.

The Old Master, as Allardyce reverently refers to Hierro, would have had a goal to crown his imperious performance but for a stunning second half save from Green that made for a nail-biting finish.

"It would have been a wonderful goal," Allardyce said in tribute to the veteran Spaniard, who appeared to be surplus to requirements when he was transfer-listed in January but is now the team's driving force.

"He sits in front of the centre-backs, picking up the headers and sweeping up the balls, allowing our full-backs to get forward, and creating so much as well as defending."

Should he help Wanderers qualify for Europe, the Champions League winner might just be persuaded to postpone his retirement.