Kevin Phillips has insisted Luke Ayling should not be “underestimated” as he prepares for an emergency centre-back outing for Leeds United in Friday night’s clash against West Ham.
Speaking exclusively to Football Insider, the former England striker claims the match-up between Ayling and Hammers striker Sebastien Haller could be pivotal to the outcome of the Elland Road clash.
Marcelo Bielsa named his starting XI for the match two days early, at his media conference on Wednesday, with right-back Ayling set to fill in at centre-back for injured duo Robin Koch and Diego Llorente.
Haller will also stand in once more, with David Moyes all but ruling out hamstring victim Michail Antonio at his own media summit on Thursday.
Ayling has spent most of his career at full-back but Phillips insisted he is a redoubtable performer.
“Haller has not exactly been on fire this season so I would not underestimate Luke Ayling,” Phillips told Football Insider.
“It might be a reason why Bielsa is confident putting Ayling in there because he knows he is having a difficult time.
“Ayling has done really well this season when he has filled in there, I am a big fan of his.
“He is good on the ball and can come out with it. If I was Haller though I would be pulling onto Ayling at every opportunity, certainly when the ball is being crossed.
“Bielsa is not stupid though, he will be confident Ayling can do the job even though it is a slight gamble.”
Ayling has been an ever-present for Leeds this season since the club’s return to the Premier League.
He has started all 11 of their league matches, and filled in at centre-back against Aston Villa and Crystal Palace.