A slow start proved costly for Cambridge as Whakatane Town took the early initiative to win this WaiBOP Championship fixture 3-1.
Whakatane raced to a 3-0 lead by half-time after being given a quick start with a first-minute goal from Sam Cox-Ellison.
Cameron Wills and Brendan Mitchell both scored within a minute of each other just after the half-hour mark.
Despite a strong second-half rally, Cambridge pegged back only one goal, scored by skipper Adam Brady (pictured), his fifth of the season.
The result means Cambridge have lost their last two games, both against top sides, to take the edge off a flying start to the season in which they won three in a row.
Tokoroa and Whakatane have now emerged as the teams to beat and Cambridge will need them to slip up or to beat them in the reverse fixtures.
Coach Steve Thomas named defender Matthew Weatherhead as the team’s Player of the Day.
Cambridge host mid-table Ngaruawahia United at John Kerkhof Park next Saturday (May 1), with a 2.45pm kick-off.
WaiBOP Championship results
Hamilton Wanderers 1-2 Tauranga Old Blues (ht: 1-0)
WAN: Darragh Rondel.
OBL: Harry Brown, Arnaldo Perdomo.
Roundwood Tokoroa 2-3 Otumoetai (ht: 1-1)
TOK: Nick Field 2.
OTU: Jack Finn, Kris Pennock, Moses Caldwell.
Whakatane Town 3-1 Cambridge (ht: 3-0)
WHA: Sam Cox-Ellison, Cameron Wills, Brendon Mitchell.
Ngaruawahia 3-1 Taupo (ht: 3-0)
NGA: Dylan Greene, James Dott, Jack Clarke.
TAU: Matthew Barry.
Te Puke United 3-1 Flying Mullet Papamoa (ht: 1-0)
TPU: Augustin Fernandez Miranda 3.
PAP: Connor Irvine.
Waikato Unicol 4-5 Te Awamutu (ht: 2-3)
UNI: Rob Dickson, Ben Hancock, Sean Bresnahan, Shannon van Niekerk.
TAW: Bradley Egglestone 4, OG.