Torquay United manager Gary Johnson says the standard of National League South has risen since he guided the Gulls to the title in 2019.
His side beat Chelmsford 2-1 earlier thanks to a stoppage time own goal to remain third in the table after their sixth win in seven matches.
In-form Brett McGavin put Torquay ahead with a 55th-minute strike.
Ben Brookes thought he had sealed a point with an 86th-minute equaliser before Samir Carruthers' late own goal.
He turned the ball into his own net in the sixth minute of stoppage time, with the defeat seeing Chelmsford drop to seventh place.
"It's certainly a lot more difficult than it was five years ago," Johnson told BBC Radio Devon.
"There's a lot of strong teams in this, and we looked at them all through the summer.
"But you hope the lads are strong enough mentally and physically to see the game out and I was so pleased to get the win.
"I'm pleased that after nine games we're right in the mix and it's like carry on boys, carry on."