Whilst football in England reaches a standstill amidst trying to work out what to do next, Leeds have done everything they can to ensure they are right at the front of the conversation when it comes to promotion to the Premier League.
The Whites lie in first place in the Championship, one point clear of closest challengers West Brom, and seven points clear of Fulham who lie in the play-off spots.
As it stands, Marcelo Bielsa’s side will be in line to return to the top-flight, and whilst the manager himself should take a lot of credit, he should also be thanking the club’s unsung hero this season: Luke Ayling.
The 28-year-old has been an ever-present for Leeds this campaign, making 29 appearances across all competitions. And he has proven his commitment to the cause by playing at both centre-back and at right-back for Bielsa, the kind of versatility that can often go under the radar as a defender.
And yet, despite playing further back, Ayling has remarkably been one of Leeds’ most potent attacking threats too. His tally of four goals puts him joint-fourth in the charts, whilst his total of three assists also puts him fourth amongst all of the club’s players.
In fact, as per Whoscored, his average match rating in the Championship this season stands at an impressive 7.31 – significantly higher than any other Leeds man, including Kalvin Phillips who registers a 7.2.
Ayling features highly on all the key defensive categories for his team, averaging two tackles per game (third), 1.8 interceptions per game (fourth), and 1.8 clearances per game (fourth). This is a man who has proven himself to be a rock-solid, reliable performer week-in and week-out.
It’s no surprise therefore that he has earned some high praise for his performances this season. Terry Skiverton, his former manager at Yeovil, remarked: “He was happy to fight his corner with controlled aggression. He’s intelligent and talented — talented technically — but the biggest reason why he’s got to the level he’s at is because of his bravery and his attitude. There’s a big difference between having character and being a character. Luke’s a genuine character.”
If Leeds’ promotion to the Premier League is eventually sealed, then Bielsa should be passing on his thanks to Ayling.
Meanwhile, this man isn’t the answer for Leeds.