A late wonder strike denied Sleaford Town their first point of the season despite a brave fightback at Cogenhoe United.
Town twice equalised at Compton Road, but were beaten 3-2 by a Jack Daldy hat-trick, capped by a superb long-range effort six minutes from time.
A tough start to the campaign was expected after another close season of squad upheaval, and so it has proved with defeats in their opening three United Counties League Premier fixtures.
Jamie Shaw’s side went into Saturday keen for a quick response to their 7-0 hiding in the FA Cup at the hands of AFC Mansfield, but were soon behind.
Cogenhoe had not scored in their first two games, but led after seven minutes when Ben Baines’ flick found the run of Daldy to stroke home a debut goal into the far corner.
Town gradually came into the game more and after Daldy had escaped a red card for a challenge on Lewis Daff with his studs off the floor, Taylor Gray hit the resulting free-kick from his own half, forcing keeper Cunningham to tip over the bar at full-stretch.
And the visitors were level on 34 minutes with a rare moment of good fortune.
Town keeper Regan Start’s huge free-kick hit Sam Waywell on the edge of the box, wrong-footing Cunningham, and leaving Harry Ginniff with a simple tap-in.
But parity lasted just two minutes when Daldy steered a header past Start from Charlton’s cross.
Cogenhoe again enjoyed the lion’s share of the attacking play after the break, with Start making superb saves to deny Baines and Gillingwater shots, and then keeping out Baines’ close-range header.
The hosts paid for their missed chances when Sleaford levelled for the second time with 20 minutes left.
Town won a corner and Lewis Railton got ahead of home defender Cichosz around six yards out to head past the helpless Cunningham.
Shaw came on in the final 10 minutes for Owen Sears, but having bossed large parts of the game, Cogenhoe’s winner came out of the blue.
Daldy received the ball 30 yards out and unleashed an unstoppable drive which found Start’s top right-hand corner for an early goal-of-the-season contender.
Saturday’s league match has been postponed due to Holbeach’s FA Cup commitments, and Town return to action in the FA Vase on Saturday, August 31 at Division One side Bourne Town.
Sleaford: R Start, J. Ellis, L. Matis, L. Daff (N. Brettoner 84), L. Railton, T. Gray, T. Gibbons, E. Armstrong (c), S. Waywell, H. Ginniff, O. Sears (J. Shaw 81). Sub not used: R. Skinner.