CARL Heeley has issued a firm "hands-off" warning to rivals hoping to poach Worcester City's players this summer.
The Blue and Whites saw a number of their squad leave at the end of last season when the club left St George's Lane and moved to Aggborough.
Top-scorer Mike Symons joined Oxford City, while fellow striker Michael Taylor and midfield duo Rob Elvins and Matt Birley all went to Solihull Moors.
Midfielder Tom Thorley, who started the season as captain, also signed for Hednesford Town in November following a poor start to the campaign.
But City have just finished 15th in Skrill North following a strong second-half to the term and are intent on keeping their top talent, such as player-of-the-season George Williams and leading marksman Daniel Nti.
A defiant manager Heeley said: “A lot of people wrote Worcester City off last summer and we lost some players to clubs that we shouldn’t lose players to.
"My message to them is we’re on our way back, we’re not lying down and they’re not going to find it as easy to come and cherry-pick our players.
"We’ve got a lot of respect for this club and so have our players. It’s a good club and they do things right. We’re in a better shape than we were last summer.”
Heeley added: "They are a great set of lads, they work hard for each other and myself and I’d like to keep as many of them as I can.
“At the moment, we’re still in the discussion stage and nothing’s been agreed but hopefully in the next week or so we’ll be announcing the first of the people who are staying at the club.
"It might be longer into the summer but we’ve come a long way since last year. It was hard, we lost a squad and everybody jumped ship. It was hard to recruit players because of the wages we were paying.
“It’s probably a bit different this summer, we’ve had people indicating they’d like to join us next season already so as much as players have options, so do we."
Worcester also have the advantage of not venturing into the unknown, which was the case 12 months ago when they became a club in exile.
But they have adapted to life at Aggborough and have agreed a ground-share deal until the end of the 2014-15 season.