Dundalk travel north to Derry on Friday night hoping to get their title bid back on track following a 0-0 draw with ten man Longford Town in their last outing.
The Lilywhites will face a rejuvenated Derry City side who have won their last two games, scoring seven goals in the process and conceding none.
Candystripes boss Peter Hutton was a busy man in the transfer window, bringing in a host of new faces including Mark Quigley, Rob Cornwall, Conor McCormack and Dundalk starlet Ciaran O’Connor, the latter two joining on loan until the end of the season.
O’Connor marked his Derry City debut with a goal and man of the match performance against Galway United at Eamonn Deacy Park on Friday night but the terms of his loan agreement mean that he will not feature against his parent club Friday night.
That win in the west lifted Derry out of the bottom three but Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny says he hasn’t been shocked by his old club’s recent surge in form.
“Derry have had a number of good results in recent weeks but that’s really no surprise because they have a lot of good players at their disposal,” said Kenny.
“Both of our games this season have been tough matches. We won them both 1-0 so we’ll have to be ready for Friday night.”
Kenny quickly switched his attention to Dundalk and said that he was delighted with how his own team have been playing in recent weeks.
“We have been in great form in the league,” said the Dundalk manager. “In our last seven league games we have won five and drawn two.
“The games we drew were against Cork City, when we were physically tired after the European games against BATE Borisov, and against Longford Town on Friday night when we should have won 5-0 so I feel we have been very consistent and are playing very well.”
Overall, however, Dundalk’s form doesn’t look quite as impressive. One win in the last six games - in which three have finished scoreless - have raised slight concerns that the side could be feeling the effects of a gruelling season. Kenny, however, was unrepentant and said those stats were misleading.
“I don’t think we have been any less prolific than earlier in the season and the 0-0 draw with Longford Town was our first scoreless draw in the league since last October.
“The other games were the 0-0 draws with Galway in the EA Sports Cup and the home game with BATE Borisov. In fairness, you can’t compare those games. Should we be criticised for not scoring against BATE? I think that would be unfair.
“What we have to stop doing is making opposition goalkeepers man of the match. You think of Paul Hunt on Friday night and Micheal Schlingermann against Drogheda a few weeks ago, we need to be more clinical.”
The arrival of Sean Maguire and Ciaran Kilduff should help with that. Kilduff scored on his debut against Bray Wanderers two weeks ago and Maguire looked a real threat when introduced against Longford Town on Friday.
“It will be good for both of them to get a full week’s training in before the Derry game,” said Kenny.
“Sean was very unlucky not to score against Longford and he will give us good options. Ciaran is the same, an out and out number nine who will give David McMillan competition and I feel he will be a big influence.”
Dundalk will face Kilduff’s old club, St Patrick’s Athletic, at Oriel Park just three days after the game with Derry City but the striker will be unavailable for selection due to the terms of his transfer from Richmond Park to Dundalk. Kenny, however, would not comment on the issue.