Middlesbrough boss Neil Warnock and Sheffield United manager Slavisa Jokanovic react as ex-Leeds United defender stars for Boro
Neil Warnock is delighted he answered Sol Bamba’s call for a “favour” in the summer after the cancer survivor helped Middlesbrough shut out Sheffield United and secure a valuable 2-0 Sky Bet Championship victory.
Duncan Watmore’s sumptuous eighth-minute opener and Paddy McNair’s thumped finish seven minutes before the break delivered just a third win of the season for Warnock’s men.
But the former Blades boss reserved praise for his indomitable centre-back Bamba, 36, who kept United contained with a tireless performance that came just four months after he received the all-clear following cancer treatment.
He said: “Sol epitomised it tonight. He was released by Cardiff and asked me for a favour – he did us a favour tonight. We have to be careful with him as it’s a lot this league but I think he enjoyed it.
“He hadn’t even got a Division Two club wanting him and he came to me asking for a favour and I didn’t think in my wildest dreams he’d be fit enough. He was really distraught about being released but it’s worked in our favour.
“I know Sol got it but I couldn’t have picked a man of the match tonight.
“I said, ‘go and enjoy it’ and I thought we played like we enjoyed it. We worked on what we thought the threats were as they’re a good side.
“Duncan’s was a great goal wasn’t it? And so was Paddy’s. I thought it was a cracking game for the Championship.”
After a painfully shot-shy start to the campaign, the Blades had recently started cutting through defences at will, scoring 12 goals across their previous four games to surge up the table.
But the likes of 21-year-old Iliman Ndiaye, captain Billy Sharp and second-half substitute David McGoldrick were blunted at the Riverside as a Teesside goal drought stretching back to 2007 continued for the South Yorkshire side.
Manager Slavisa Jokanovic, who could not steer United to an eighth game unbeaten in all competitions, said: “We didn’t play a good game: the start was so slow, they won all the challenges, the second balls, with their energy and power.
“What I expect is that we try to run into spaces and try to be dangerous on the offensive side. They were stronger than us there and so we tried to run a little bit more in the second half.
“There is no question about confidence. It was a physically hard game for us. We might be a more talented team but in some important aspects they were a better team than us.
“You always need something a little bit extra compared to your opponent. We know we can find it but we didn’t find a solution to this kind of physical challenge.
“I can try to explain some of the reasons for tonight but in the Championship there are no easy challenges and we just have to focus 100 per cent.
“Boro were better at the end of the day… coming to Middlesbrough on a Tuesday night is always very uncomfortable.”