Tommy Warrilow hailed Jay May as the best targetman in the league following the striker’s return to Ashford United.
May, who left for Romford last season, is back at Homelands to spearhead the Nuts and Bolts’ Isthmian South East promotion push.
The big man retains the qualities that made him a firm favourite of Warrilow when they first teamed up at Tonbridge more than a decade ago.
“We lost Jay a week before last season started and didn’t replace him,” said boss Warrilow.
“He’s looked after himself, he’s probably the lightest he’s ever been.
“We’ve got to manage him more than we did the first time he was here - we perhaps played him too much - but he’s easily the best at what he does at our level and probably the level above.
“I don’t expect him to run in behind and sprint after the ball - we’ve got other players to do that job - but if he does his job and the rest of the team do theirs, we’ll be all right.
“He’s got nothing to prove to anyone, he’s had a great career and the rest might have done him good.
“He’s a great lad, too, which is key for me, as I like to surround myself with good lads in the changing room.”
Ashford play their first pre-season friendly at Rochester United on Saturday (1pm).
They’ve kept the majority of their squad together but are looking for a new keeper after Sam Mott moved on.
Warrilow is desperately hoping for an uninterrupted campaign after two incomplete seasons during the Covid pandemic.
He said: “I’d hate to get going again and have to stop after 20 games and then points-per-game comes into it, or whatever.
“It was the right thing to stop last year, but I’m so pleased to be back. It’s good to see the boys again and feel like you’re getting back to normality.
“The league’s looking strong - the pandemic doesn’t seem to have affected many clubs.
“There’s still lots of deals flying about but I’ve been around long enough to take all that with a pinch of salt.
“I know what we’ve got at our place and we want to try and get out of this league if we can.
“I’d imagine it will be the same faces up there - Hastings are looking strong, Cray Valley are looking strong - but there’s never an easy game at this level.If you go in with the wrong attitude, you can easily come unstuck. We treat everyone with the same respect.”