NEIL WARNOCK believes centre-back Sol Bamba has beaten the doubters - as well as a life-threatening disease - after the defender made his first league start in more than 20 months in Middlesbrough’s weekend defeat to Coventry.

Bamba underwent chemotherapy treatment in January after he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and revealed that he was cancer-free in May, just over four months after his diagnosis.

The 36-year-old replaced Paddy McNair in the Middlesbrough line-up at the Coventry Building Society Arena, after the Northern Ireland international pulled out in the warm-up, but couldn’t prevent goals from Viktor Gyokeres and Martyn Waghorn guiding Coventry to victory.

The Boro boss was full of praise for Bamba, who was captain of Warnock’s Cardiff City team that secured promotion to the Premier League, but admitted that the late change to the line-up caused problems for his side.

Warnock said: “I said to him in the dressing room, 'Sol, I thought you were wonderful today son’. I didn’t pick him on sympathy, I picked him on ability, what he’s been through, he deserved to be on the winning side.

“He can hold his hand up because I don’t think anybody thought he would ever play at this level again when he was at Cardiff, I think he’s surprised a few people, himself probably as well, he was as good as anybody at the back.

“Paddy felt something in his leg and we didn’t want to risk anything, when you’ve been away on international duty the training isn’t as intense, it was a blow because we’d obviously worked on everything this week. Having said that though, I thought Sol was excellent.

“You’ve got to try and get the first goal, it’s always going to be hard work here, it was difficult to lose Paddy before kick-off but these thing happen and I thought Sol did ever so well.”

Defeat for Middlesbrough extends their winless run to four matches and means they have failed to win in all five of their meetings at the Coventry's home ground since it was built in 2005.

Warnock was critical of the attitude some of his players showed on Saturday afternoon and feels work needs to be done at the top end of the pitch if his side are to improve.

He said: “I was disappointed with one or two of our better players today and I let them know what I thought about that.

“We’re all going to mistakes but when you make mistakes you haven’t got to dwell on it, you haven’t got to beat yourself up, and I thought one or two lads dropped their heads.

“Life’s too short, you’ve got to get on with it, we’re on to the next minute, we’re on to the next phase of the game you haven’t got time to have your chin on the floor, I don’t like to see that.

“I’ve got to sort out how we’re going to try and score goals, we never looked like scoring from corner kicks, you’d think we were Sunday League and never practiced but we practice every day, I should let them do it off the cuff.”

The result leaves Boro just two points above the relegation zone having won just one of their six league matches so far this season – that being a 2-1 home success against Bristol City.

However, Warnock was pleased with the impact his new signings made after handing debuts to Onel Hernandez, James Lea Siliki and Andraz Sporar at the CBS Arena.

He said: ”The new lads understand that it’s a quick league and they’ve got to get into it quickly, James got caught in possession a couple of times because he’s not used to the pace, Andraz did as well as he could in the space and Hernandez could have scored the winner, he worked hard but it wasn’t to be.

“We changed it by putting James on, but you can’t say it was any better than when we had the two lads further up, James got caught two or three times having another touch, he’s got to get used to this league, but I thought he made a couple of great passes and we could have created more.”

Warnock felt Boro could have had two penalties against the Sky Blues only for his appeals to fall on deaf ears with referee Leigh Doughty remaining unmoved on both occasions.

A handball in the box went unpunished before Uche Ikpeazu went down under pressure from Fankaty Dabo inside the opening 15 minutes with Warnock bemoaning his side’s luck.

He said: “The lads were saying we should have had two penalties, the first one is more clear-cut, the handball, the linesman said his arms were in a natural position but there’s no way your elbow sticking out high up blocking the ball is natural.

“The referee said that Uche went down easy, it didn’t help that the lad’s foot was in between Uche’s legs tripping him up, it was a winnable game, we don’t get much luck do we?”

Next up for Middlesbrough is a trip to the City Ground to play Nottingham Forest on Wednesday night aiming to secure their first away win of the campaign having achieved a league double over their opponents last season.