St Ives Town manager Ricky Marheineke reckons next season is going to be ‘brutal’.
Marheineke guided Saints to their best-ever finish of 13th in the Southern League Premier Division Central last term.
But he is already bracing himself for a survival battle in 2019/20 when he expects the competition to be even more fierce.
"It's going to be very tough," said Marheineke.
"There were a lot of surprises among the teams who struggled in our division last season. The likes of Banbury, Barwell, Lowestoft and Hitchin are all strong clubs at Step 3 and I don't expect them to be down there again.
"We also have two very good sides coming up in Peterborough Sports and Bromsgrove Sporting and a very big club in Nuneaton coming down to this level.
"It's going to be brutal and it's another huge challenge that we have to rise to.
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"We'll get the players to sit down and set their own targets as we always do, but the ultimate aim for St Ives Town is always survival at this level . . . and hopefully we can cause a few surprises along the way just as we did last season."
Peterborough Sports, managed by former Saints favourite Jimmy Dean, won the Southern League Division One Central title last term with Bromsgrove Sporting following them up in the play-offs.
Hednesford and Kings Langley have been shifted sideways into the Premier Division Central from other Step 3 leagues while Nuneaten suffered the drop from the National League North.
Marheineke admits four players could leave Saints this summer with defenders Owen Wallis and Jarvis Wilson, midfielder Munashe Sundire and frontman Andrew Osei-Bonsu all attracting attention from higher levels.
Marheineke is also working hard on attracting a handful of new signings to Westwood Road and hopes to have a couple tied down before the end of this month.
Saints will return for pre-season training on July 2 and have eight friendlies scheduled ahead of the big kick-off in August.
They meet Huntingdon Town (away, July 6), Godmanchester Rovers (away, July 11) and Cambridge City (home, July 20) in the Premier Cup competition organised by the Hunts FA to mark their 125th anniversary.
Saints also face Wellingborough Town (away, July 16), Ely City (home, July 23), Enfield Town (home, July 27), AFC Kempston Rovers (away, July 30) and Hendon (home, August 3) during a packed summer schedule.