New Kingstonian manager Hayden Bird has spent the summer spreading optimism but has warned of a tough start to the league campaign.

K’s kick off this Saturday at home to Cray Wanderers before facing Wingate and Margate in the opening week. “It’s going to be a really difficult start to the season,” the former Merstham boss told the Comet. “The first five clubs we play could easily end up in the top five. Let’s give the players the chance to breathe and settle in.”

Eight of the new faces on the pitch have followed Bird from his successful Merstham side who made the play-off final in 2018/2019. Kingstonian, meanwhile, experienced a disastrous nine months, spending big under Leigh Dynan, flirting with relegation and then finishing 18th. In June the club turned to Bird for a fresh approach, stability and a passing style.

“Everybody will say they want to get promoted”, Bird added. “Is the title premature this season? Probably. Is the play-offs premature? Maybe. Everyone at Kingstonian needs to understand that this club has not had a mentality of winning and added to that there is a new idea of football I’m implementing. The welcome I’ve had is tremendous but patience is going to be really important. We need to give the supporters a team they can relate to and play a brand of football that everyone can know is Kingstonian.”

Bird’s progressive 4-2-3-1 will look to the mercurial creativity of Dan Bennett, the pace of Reece Hall and the goals of Louie Theophanous.

Theophanous, the former Billericay and Woking striker, is one of only three K’s players to return from last season’s squad at King George’s Field. And his new manager has no doubt he will add to the 12 league goals he produced last term even as chaos reigned around him. “Louie has been a revelation in pre-season. I’ve given him the nickname ‘Diego’ because he is like Diego Costa. Beats the centre-halves up, scores, fantastic touch, the best centre-forward I’ve ever worked with.”

Pre-season ended with an encouraging 5-1 win at South Park last week. But other teams in the Isthmian are investing heavily for promotion, with Essex nemesis Hornchurch mounting another expensive push for the Vanarama South, while Cray, Carshalton and Margate have all recruited ambitiously. Unlike this time last year, K’s no longer carry the burden of title favourites. Feeling lighter may be just what Bird needs as the club charts its next rise.