Premier League promotion contenders

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As the business end of the season fast approaches, the lucrative prize of promotion to the Premier League is still a realistic ambition for a number of Championship clubs this year.

Tonight's list of midweek fixtures represents the beginning of the end for those sides looking to stake their claim for a place amongst England's elite, with the final 10 games of the campaign often proving to be the fine line between success and failure.

Southampton and West Ham have led the way for much of the season, but the recent resurgence of Reading has propelled them into contention for automatic promotion.

Further down the table, the fight for the play-off places looks set to go right to the wire, with no less than eight teams capable of a late promotion charge.

Leeds United under the new stewardship of veteran manager Neil Warnock are the rank outsiders, while Brighton - who boast just one league defeat in 2012 - also have a slim chance of a top-six finish.

GiveMeFootball assesses the credentials of the leading candidates in another tightly contested Championship promotion race...

1st. Southampton P37 - 72 PTS

The Saints haven't been out of the top two all season, and with the league's top goalscorer Rickie Lambert (24 goals) leading the line, Nigel Adkins' side boast the firepower that could earn them back-to-back promotions.

Unbeaten in their last 10 outings, Southampton travel to the KC Stadium tonight where they face an in-form Hull City side that has the best defensive record in the division having kept a total of 16 clean sheets this campaign.

The Tigers are on an even better run than the leaders, and are unbeaten in their last 11 games. Something has got to give.

2nd. Reading P37 - 70 PTS

Reading are the Championship's form team with nine wins and one draw from their last 10 games.

Brian McDermott has been here before after a late surge took the Royals all the way to the play-off final last season, narrowly missing out on promotion when they lost to Swansea City.

With trips to West Ham on March 31 and Southampton on April 13, the Berkshire club's destiny is in their own hands, and with confidence at an all-time high at the Madejski Stadium, will fancy their chances of a top-two berth.

3rd. West Ham P36 - 67 PTS

The Hammers' Achilles heel is their home form, with four consecutive draws at Upton Park meaning Sam Allardyce's side have dropped out of the automatic promotion places.

One defeat in their last 12 league games is testament to the fact that West Ham remain hard to beat, but the fact they struggle to score goals and have failed to put a significant sequence of wins together, leaves them in a precarious position.

Winning their game in hand away at Peterborough will at the time of writing mean they surpass Reading back into second place, and the fact they have the best away record in the league (10 wins) will give fans reason for optimism.

4th. Birmingham City P36 - 59 PTS

Blues boss Chris Hughton has done a fantastic job since arriving at St Andrews in the summer.

A depleted squad that has been ravaged by the need to stem the club's growing financial problems, twinned with the nightmare fixture schedule prompted by Birmingham's Europa League inclusion has made their achievement all the more impressive.

Boasting one of the best home records in the division and an impressive goalscoring run on their travels, the Blues could yet make an immediate return to the top-flight.

5th. Blackpool P37 - 59 PTS

Ian Holloway's Tangerine Army have struggled for consistency this term, but they still find themselves in the promotion mix-up.

Boasting attacking talents like Thomas Ince and Matt Phillips, Blackpool can also call on the experience of verteran striker Kevin Phillips who has bagged an impressive 14 goals this term.

With more goals scored on their travels (32) than any other side in the league, the Bloomfield Road outfit have also won the most points (29) coming from behind.

6th. Middlesbrough P36 - PTS 59

Boro have dropped off the pace in recent weeks with defeats to Leeds and Birmingham meaning it is imperative Tony Mowbray's side respond with a good performance away at West Ham tonight.

It's all about form and consistency from here on in and with automatic promotion looking a step to far, Middlesbrough will be determined to confirm their place in the play-offs.

7th. Hull City P36 - 58 PTS

Despite Nicky Barmby's managerial inexperience, Hull have established themselves as genuine play-off contenders.

A resolute side that is difficult to break down, and one that boasts the best defensive record in the league. Both will be important attributes to maintain during the end of season run-in.

Victory over leaders Southampton tonight will send a message to their rivals that the Tigers are up for the fight.

8th. Cardiff City P37 - 58 PTS

Malky Mackay is struggling to get his players to put their Carling Cup final heartache behind them, but the Bluebirds must respond quickly if they are to regain their place in the top-six.

Cardiff are all too familiar with the drama of the play-offs and will look to use their previous experience as an advantage should they find themselves there come the end of April.

9th. Brighton P37 - 58 PTS

The Seagulls were unbeaten in 2012 until Saturday's 3-1 defeat away at fellow play-off contenders Blackpool, but Guus Poyet has got his side playing the same attractive brand of attacking football that won them the League One trophy last season.

A top-six finish would represent a remarkable achievement for a Brighton side that is still buzzing off of the adulation that has come with the unveiling of their new Amex Stadium home in Falmer.

Craig Mackail-Smith is one of the best strikers outside the Premier League, and with the creativity of sizzling Spaniard Vicente, the Sussex side will always pose a threat.

10th. Leeds United P37 - 54 PTS

Leeds are the outsiders, having scored only three goals in five games since Warnock took over at Elland Road.

However, if they can overcome their lack of firepower, and Ross McCormack (15 goals) can rediscover his best form, the former QPR boss could prove instrumental having been promoted seven times with six different clubs.

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