Three reasons why this 25-year-old is the unsung hero of Leeds season
COMMENT By Will Butcher
Garry Monk has seen his Leeds side go from strength to strength in recent weeks as they enter the hunt for promotion to the Premier League.
The likes of top scorer Chris Wood, fan favourite Pontus Jansson and last season’s Player of the Year Charlie Taylor have taken the plaudits as Leeds sit in fourth.
However, right-back Luke Ayling has become one of the Yorkshire giants’ most consistent performers in recent weeks, after starring against Aston Villa on Saturday.
Here are three reasons why Leeds have finally solved their right-back dilemma since losing Sam Byram to West Ham in January 2015.
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The summer signing has shown this season how a right-back can contribute to play without leaving himself exposed at the back.
Ayling has got forward on numerous occasions to support the likes of Hadi Sacko or Kemar Roofe, as well as supplying an assist of his own during the 3-2 triumph away at Norwich.
Since the loss of Byram, Leeds had failed to bring in a wing back. But at £750,000, Ayling has proved to be a bargain during his 20 league and cup appearances this season.
Calmness on the ball
Ex-Arsenal youth player Ayling has shone with the ball at his feet, with his desire to keep possession rather than clearing his lines at the first sight of pressure.
Since Byram, the likes of Scott Wootton and Gaetano Berardi have been known to get rid of the ball by hitting a searching ball down the line.
More times than not, it loses possession but with Ayling at right-back under Monk, Leeds have been able to retain the ball and mount an attack.
Known for his impressive ability in the air despite only standing at an average-sized 6ft, Ayling is able to fill in at centre-back.
With Leeds only possessing three central defenders in Jansson, Kyle Bartley and Liam Cooper, Ayling ‘s versatility is vital if an injury occurs at the heart of Monk’s defence.
Leeds’ number two filled in at right-back during his side’s 2-0 loss to Liverpool in the EFL Cup, and held his own against Belgium international Divock Origi.