Washington took the First Division by storm after gaining promotion last season – but, after going 10 games unbeaten, they have taken just one point from the last five.
Managerless Newcastle Benfield arrived at the Nissan Sports Complex just outside the relegation zone on Saturday.
The Mechanics were favourites to rekindle their season, but, in a strange old game, they succumbed to a 5-3 defeat.
Veteran striker Paul Brayson, in temporary charge of the club alongside Mark Convery, had Benfield ahead in the 13th minute and they looked set to reach the break in front, only to be rocked by two goals in two minutes.
Mark Davison produced a classy, spectacular effort to level in the 40th minute, then Chris Wallace hit an equally impressive strike in off the bar to put Steven Hutchinson’s men in front – with their first two real efforts on goal.
Chris Winn bagged Washington’s third in the second half, then he slipped a shot just wide after outpacing the defence, when a fourth goal would surely have killed the game.
But Benfield took heart from their lucky escape and, helped by a couple of quality strikes to match those of Davison and Wallace, two-goal Dan Taylor, Brayson and Matthew Cornish earned the visitors the spoils, though Connor Okus fired just over the Benfield bar at 4-3.
Washington have slid into mid-table, but Sunderland RCA continue to go from strength to strength.
They made it 15 games undefeated when they saw off a strong challenge from Whitley Bay by the odd goal in three.
Stephen Callan headed in a floated Luke Proctor free-kick right on the stroke of half time, having head an earlier effort from a Proctor corner cleared off the line.
Chris Hughes hit a brilliant volley to level after great work from Kempster, but Colin Larkin struck the winner 15 minutes from time, firing into the top corner after Laws only half-cleared a free-kick.
Bishop Auckland and crisis club Durham City shared the points at Heritage Park, where few scoring opportunities were created.
Tom Colledge gave City – who saw manager Ian Chandler quit late last week – the lead on the hour mark following a corner, but, in the 82nd minute, Harvey Saunders set up Andrew Johnson for the equaliser.
When Seaham Red Star conceded twice in the opening 25 minutes, they faced a formidable challenge against championship challengers Shildon at Dean Street.
Goalkeeper Shaun Newbrook parried a shot from Billy Greulich Smith, but only into the path of Anthony Bell, who struck into the far corner on eight minutes.
Seaham’s Ryan Noble hit the post from 25 yards before the home side doubled the lead with a direct free-kick by Jonny Davis.
Red Star’s luck was just not in and keeper Lewis Graham denied them a goal with a fantastic stop from Paul Gardner. Shildon scored again, courtesy of Paul Connor, to wrap up a 3-0 win.
Mark Collingwood’s side are now fourth-bottom, ahead of Norton and Stockton Ancients, Bedlington Terriers and West Auckland.
Morpeth Town continue to lead the table by five points from Shildon – but they had their work cut out before winning at Norton with a last-minute Shaun Anderson header.
West Auckland did not help themselves in their 2-0 defeat to Newton Aycliffe.
After leaking an opening goal to Paul Garthwaite, they had Chris Renshaw dismissed in the 31st minute and John Campbell cemented Aycliffe’s victory with his second-half strike.
Bedlington Terriers are also in a relegation battle. Marc Walton scored both their goals at fifth-top Guisborough, who won 5-2 at a canter thanks to Curtis Round, Danny Earl (2), Stephen Snaith and Connor Smith.