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Top 10 promotion players

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Sky Sports takes a look at a few of those who could influence the Football League promotion picture

Take a look at the top end of any of the three divisions which make up the Football League and it is clear that the race for promotion is set to go down to the wire.

In the Championship, six points separate leaders West Ham from Reading in sixth, while there are a further five clubs within six points of the play-off places.

Step down into League One and you find that Charlton are surging clear at the summit.

The battle to join them in the top two is shaping up nicely, though, with three clubs still very much in the mix, while it would be difficult to rule any of the top 10 out of the promotion picture.

It is, however, in League Two that we find the most intriguing tussle, with the top three divided by goal difference alone and the top six separated by just two points.

Any side in the top half could still force their way into the play-off pack, while Gillingham in 13th are only five points adrift of that particular group.

Here, Sky Sports takes a look at a few of those who could have a major influence on the battle to step up onto a grander platform, with goal-getters and goal-stoppers set to play a leading role.

Rickie Lambert

Any striker that boasts a strike rate of better than a goal every other game is worth their weight in gold, and Southampton will be leaning heavily on their prolific marksman. Lambert currently leads the Championship scoring charts, with another 16 strikes added to his impressive tally. The 29-year-old helped to steer the Saints out of League One last season and he could be the man to take them all the way back to the Promised Land.

Kevin Nolan

The combative midfielder took the bold decision to step down into the Championship with West Ham last summer, and he is charged with the task of leading them back to the big time. Nolan opted to swap life in the top-flight with Newcastle for that in the second tier with the Hammers, but he could soon be heading back to English football's top table. Sam Allardyce's side lead the way in the Championship at present and they will want their skipper, following his return from suspension, to help them over the line.

Kevin Phillips

Blackpool's hopes of securing an immediate return to the Premier League could rest on their ability to keep a 38-year-old frontman fit and firing on all cylinders. A few eyebrows will have been raised when the Seasiders set their sights on Phillips in the summer of 2011. He is a man who has scored goals wherever he has been, though, and he could prove to be one of the best pieces of business ever carried out by Ian Holloway. The veteran forward is considered to be more of an impact player than a regular starter, but he has already broken into double figures in terms of goals scored.

Jack Hobbs

With Hull City having scored fewer goals than any other side in the top half of the Championship, they will be looking for their skipper to keep things tight at the back. The Tigers have found the target just 31 times in 30 league games this season, with only six teams in the Championship having endured bigger struggles in front of goal. Hull have, however, been able to keep 14 clean sheets this season. Hobbs has played a key role in that success and currently forms part of a back four that has not conceded in its last five outings.

Jordan Rhodes

Arguably the most in-demand striker in the Football League, the Scotland international will shoulder the vast majority of expectation at Huddersfield. Rhodes has already netted 27 times in 26 appearances this season, with that return including back-to-back hat-tricks in games against Exeter and Preston and a four-goal salvo in a thrilling 4-4 draw with Sheffield Wednesday. Huddersfield knocked back a number of approaches for him during the January transfer window, but will be aware that they need to win promotion if they are to retain his services for next season.

Chris Day

Few members of the Stevenage squad are able to boast Premier League experience, so their goalkeeper will have a key role to play in their efforts to remain in the promotion mix. Day graced the top-flight during his time with Tottenham and Watford and is a shot-stopper with over 400 appearances under his belt. Helping Stevenage into the Championship would represent his finest achievement in the game, with the club pushing hard for a place in the second tier in just their second season as a Football League club.

Gary Madine

Sheffield Wednesday are blessed with plenty of attacking firepower, but a certain 21-year-old forward is considered to be their most important weapon in the final third. Owls boss Gary Megson has been quick to identify Madine as his leading frontman this season, with his ability to hold the ball up as important as his ability to stick it in the back of the net. Madine has done just that on 12 occasions this season and will be looking to break through the 20-goal barrier before the campaign comes to a close.

Tyrone Barnett

With Matt Tubbs having departed for Bournemouth, and with Crawley wobbling, the Red Devils need their top goalscorer to continue leading from the front. Barnett formed a lethal partnership with Tubbs over the first half of the season, with their efforts taking Crawley to the top of the League Two table. Barnett has now been left to push on by himself, but he has already proven that he is more than capable of troubling fourth tier defences. An impressive return of 13 league goals this season has him sat among the frontrunners for the League Two top scorers prize and he will be looking to add to that tally while working alongside Arsenal starlet Sanchez Watt, who has joined Crawley on loan for the remainder of the season.

Liam Dickinson

A football nomad he may be, but a player who once cost Derby £750,000 appears to have found his feet at Southend and is looking to fire them to the League Two title. Since bursting onto the scene at Stockport, Dickinson has represented 12 clubs in the space of four hectic years. He has struggled to reproduce the form he showed at Edgeley Park, but he has been back among the goals for the Shrimpers this season. He has already found the target 12 times in all competitions, with the most recent of those strikes helping to take Southend back to the top of the fourth tier table.

Matt Ritchie

Goalscoring midfielders are a rare breed and that explains why fourth tier high-fliers Swindon were so desperate to hang onto their playmaker-in-chief during the winter window. Bournemouth and Ipswich were strongly linked with Ritchie in January, but the Robins made it clear that he would be going nowhere. They have high hopes for the 22-year-old and consider him to be an integral cog in their promotion-chasing machine. It is easy to see why, with the former Portsmouth winger currently the club's top scorer with nine goals.

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