Washington manager Steve Hutchinson is “over the moon” at the Mechanics’ first season back in Division One.
Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s game against Penrith at the Nissan Sports Complex, he said: “If anyone had given me a top six place at this stage of the campaign, I would have taken their hand off.
“Often, promoted sides find it difficult during their first season and we knew we had to get off to a good start.
“We did, and after the first 10 games were the only unbeaten team. Yes, we’ve had a couple of blips, but I’m still very satisfied at where we are.”
Hutchinson is realistic in accepting that his side will not win the championship and instead has his sights set on a top-six finish.
“It would be great if we are mixing it with the big boys come the end of the season, but there’s still 18 games to play,” said Hutchinson.
Tomorrow, Hutchinson is forced to go without banned pair Chris Wallace and Adam McGuinness and there’s a doubt surrounding goalkeeper Jonathan Carmichael.
Seaham Red Star were promoted alongside Washington and they, too, are satisfied with where they stand.
Following a five-game unbeaten run, they are ninth going into their fixture at Newcastle Benfield.
“Before a ball was kicked, our manager Mark Collingwood set a target of 40 points. We still have 13 matches to play and could reach the goal tomorrow, since we are now on 38 points,” observed secretary David Copeland.
Collingwood has several players sidelined, with Nicky Kane, who was outstanding in the win over Newton Aycliffe on Tuesday, Daryl Donnelly, Harrison Scott and David Paul all out.
Kyle Bell is expected to return and Collingwood is looking to bring in a player in time for him to make his debut.
Benfield joint manager Paul Brayson says that the Tynesiders’ 4-1 win in the earlier fixture will count for nothing.
He said: “They are on a bit of a run and it’ll be a tough game, but we have been playing well recently so perhaps we can get a result.”
Steve Baptist, who has recovered from a foot injury, comes into a full strength squad.
Only three places and five points separate mid-table sides Sunderland RCA and Bishop Auckland, who clash at Meadow Park.
“They are ahead of us and have played well recently, so it promises to be an interesting match,” claimed RCA secretary Rob Jones.
The Wearsiders’ only absentee is Ross McNab, with a calf injury, and James Armstrong, Lee Cresswell and Jordan Harkess are all expected to feature.
Durham City, who meet Marske United at Consett, are in the drop zone. They were holding the title challengers to a draw when the original fixture was abandoned after an hour a few weeks ago because of snow.
“We gave them a good game then and were disappointed when the match was called off. Hopefully, we can compete again but it will be tough – they are a very good side,” said boss Chris Moore.
Ross Wilkinson and Andrei Ardelean are back, but Moore awaits fitness reports on Jack Carr (hamstring) and Ross Stead (foot) before finalising his squad.
Whitley Bay moved out of the bottom three with a creditable draw in midweek and boss Ian Chandler believes the tide has turned.
He said: “I’ve seen a steady improvement during the four games I’ve been in charge since my return.
“It’s a six-pointer at Jarrow Roofing and I know Richie McLoughlin will have his lads up for the task, so it won’t be easy, but hopefully I can get my first win.”
With regular stopper Andy Jennison unavailable, young Dan Gladstone stays in goal and Chandler is hopeful that Ryan Noble will also be able to play.
At the top, leaders Shildon will be wary visiting West Allotment Celtic, who have improved in recent weeks and moved up to seventh from the basement.
Newton Aycliffe will go third if they beat Dunston UTS, who have a long injury list. Craig Hodgson, Dan Halliday, Stephen Harrison and goalkeeper Dale Burrell are out and the best chance for Liam Thear is that he might make the bench.
Bedlington Terriers host Ashington, who have Scott Blandford, Dylan Williamson, Mattie Grieve and Scott Gunn ruled out.