Gillingham manager Martin Allen said the rehabilitation of striker Adam Birchall took "a big step forward" in Saturday's friendly against Dartford.
"That's the Birchall I knew from a few years ago," Allen told BBC Kent after the Gills' 1-0 win.
The 27-year-old missed all last season after rupturing his cruciate ligament in a friendly this time last year.
"He looked sharp, he looked tenacious, he had two efforts on goal and he looked bright," said Allen.
"He had half an hour against Dagenham when we gave him a standing ovation in the dressing room after the game, and it was a big step forward to then see him play here.
"When you've been out for that long you're worried, tentative and concerned and you're not sure if it's going to hold up.
"We have to bring him along slowly, we have to nurture him, work with him and be patient - but he's got a lovely attitude, a lovely demeanour."
Birchall scored 64 goals in 78 appearances for Dover Athletic before moving to Gillingham for an undisclosed fee in July 2011.