Leeds United soared into the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday evening as they defeated Cardiff City by a 5-2 margin at Elland Road but there were once again signs of defensive frailties, summed up by the woeful cameo of vice-captain Luke Ayling.
Time and time again, the Bluebirds looked like scoring, having had one effort ruled out through VAR, which was a little fortunate for the Yorkshire outfit.
They would snatch two late consolation goals, one a piece of abysmal defending from the aforementioned veteran that allowed Callum Robinson to nip in and bag an easy tap-in, and the other was a handball-induced penalty.
Under-fire Whites boss Jesse Marsch got the result he very much needed, also ending the club’s third-round hoodoo, but with the side sat just two points above the drop zone in the bread and butter of the Premier League, the pressure is still on.
He’ll need to resolve his defensive issues, given the Championship side put four goals past them across two encounters and the fact that only three teams have leaked more goals than Leeds (34) in the top-flight.
And ditching Ayling would be the right place to start after his ‘ sloppy error ruined the clean sheet’ – in the words of LeedsLive reporter Beren Cross.
It was “horrific” and “pathetic defending” – as well put by Football Radar analyst Josh Hobbs – which is not very befitting of a player that has featured 233 times for the club, and 75 times in the big time too.
But the same defensive problems that faced Marcelo Bielsa are happening today with Marsch, and that is hardly a surprise given the same culprits are still frequenting the lineup.
Ayling came on for new signing Max Wober just before the hour mark and struggled to make his mark on the game – having registered fewer touches than goalkeeper Illan Meslier, the Englishman also failed to register a single defensive contribution with no tackles, blocks, clearances or interceptions.
The 31-year-old also lost possession six times from his 20 touches, meaning he blundered the ball back to Cardiff once every five minutes and once every three touches, as per Sofascore.
You could argue that Ayling almost cost Leeds’ place in the Premier League last season after a “disgusting” red card incident against his former club, Arsenal.
“What an idiot. The lack of professionalism from his teammates and what this could mean going forward,” Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher commented. “It’s not just going down to 10 men, it’s a disgusting tackle going in with two feet and reminds me of a tackle that Vinnie Jones did a long time ago.”
He then added: “To put your team down to 10 men, miss the last three games of the season, that might be the last game that Luke Ayling ever plays in the Premier League.”
Indeed, you’d have expected better from someone bordering on club-legend status and now several months on, it’s clear to see that mistakes are still in his game at the highest level.
It could, therefore, be a wise move from Marsch to axe the £35k-per-week star permanently, with plenty of alternative options available in Rasmus Kristensen and Cody Drameh.