Ashford assistant manager Tommy Osborne believes Isthmian South East is stronger than ever.
The Nuts & Bolts are among a number of sides with promotion ambitions this season.
Osborne feels they have the squad to challenge for a top-five finish in a fiercely competitive division.
They were edged 1-0 at rivals Sittingbourne last weekend, ending a three-match winning streak in the league, and face another ambitious side when Sheppey visit Homelands this Saturday (3pm).
The Ites, along with new leaders Ramsgate and unbeaten Cray Valley, all reached the FA Cup First Round - highlighting the strength of the league.
“We’re running a squad of 16/17 and at present we feel we can be very competitive in this league,” said Osborne.
“You look at the league and it’s probably as competitive as it’s ever been.
“There’s three sides from this league that got to the First Round of the FA Cup and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I think the league is very strong.
“I’ve seen Sheppey play this season and I’ve no doubt they will be looking at the table thinking, why can’t we compete for those play-off places?
“They’re another team I think will be ultra-competitive this year. They had a fantastic FA Cup run and credit to them.
“On the day I’m sure it’ll be two evenly-matched teams but we’re going into it confident we can get something from it.
“Sheppey had that great cup run but I think our players look at it as just another chance to get points in the league.
“I don’t think it’ll make any difference in terms of the lads’ attitude or mentality going into it against Sheppey.”
Ashford slipped to seventh after their narrow defeat at Sittingbourne.
The Brickies scored the only goal in the 74th minute, with the visitors unable to find their form in attack.
Osborne said: “I really do feel Sittingbourne are going to be very strong this year.
“I’ve no doubt they’ve got ambitions to be one of the clubs aiming to get promoted.
“They’re a strong, physical side, very well-organised, and the game was pretty much how we expected them to be.
“From our point of view I thought we did OK in parts but going forward on the day we didn’t have enough to score that first goal or get back in the game when we went 1-0 down.
“In recent weeks we’ve actually looked good going forward.
“We’ve created quite a few chances in the last three or four games but on Saturday it was just lacking and I do think you have to give the opposition credit for that as well.
“Sometimes it’s very easy to look at yourselves but they are a well-organised side and they made it difficult.
“The work rate and effort were there and I felt we defended well - we just lacked that cutting edge.
“We’ve got a lot of belief in our attacking players.
“Although it didn’t happen for us on Saturday, we’ve got confidence in the lads and no doubt in our next game we will create chances.”
There was a league debut for midfielder David Ozobia as a second-half substitute.
He joined the Nuts & Bolts several weeks ago but had been unavailable before featuring against Hythe in the League Cup last week.
“He’s been away,” said Osborne.
“I believe the Hythe game was his first game in four or five months and he came on against Sittingbourne.
“Kev (Watson, boss) and Flan (fellow assistant boss Adam Flanagan) have worked with him before.
“They’re a lot more familiar with him than I am but he’s a great lad and they speak very highly of him.”
Anthony Edgar is Ashford’s only injury doubt for the weekend.
The Nuts & Bolts visit Horndean on Tuesday (7.45pm).