The signings Garry Monk and his management team made at the beginning of the season have made all the difference to where we currently reside in the League, there’s no denying that. But for all the praise we give to Pontus Jansson, Kyle Bartley and Kemar Roofe, we also owe a great deal of praise to the ponytail at left back: Luke Ayling.
We all bang on about Janson but how good a signing has Luke Ayling been, outstanding player..— tim wilson (@timwilson64) February 5, 2017
Luke Ayling started his career within the youth set-up at Arsenal, but he made his name as part of the Yeovil Town team who gained promotion to the Championship in 2013. After Yeovil got relegated the following season, he joined League One side Bristol City and once again gained promotion with Bristol. Last season, he played an integral part in keeping them in the division.
However, Lee Johnson and Bristol City made the decision to change the system at Bristol and, for some bewildering reason, felt that Ayling didn’t fit that system and made the decision to sell him to Leeds for an undisclosed fee. Since then, he has become essential part of our Premier League promotion push in his first season at Leeds.
When Ayling arrived at Elland Road, Leeds United’s season hadn’t started on a good foot: we had lost horribly at Loftus Road against QPR and staggered throughout an EFL Cup tie against Fleetwood. The optimism of a new season had dwindled immediately after a difficult first week of the season. If I am honest, the idea of a player who couldn’t make the grade at a team like Bristol City joining Leeds didn’t help the pessimist in me.
The weeks that followed saw the team still struggle with defeats against Birmingham, Nottingham Forest and Huddersfield. However, during the opening fixtures, Leeds did manage a Yorkshire derby victory against Sheffield Wednesday, and it is during that game that I saw what Luke Ayling could become at Leeds. His range of defensive and attacking skills were highlighted and everyone started to take notice.
Since then, Leeds and Ayling haven’t looked back. We are currently fifth in the Championship and for the first time in years looking like the Premier League could be a reality. As I think back to every game this season that Ayling has played, I can’t remember one game where he didn’t play at least 7/10. The confidence and defensive nose he holds breeds confidence with the fans - a confidence we haven’t seen at Elland Road for years.
It is no coincidence that a great December for the Whites coincided with Ayling winning the TIAT readers and staff awards. The conversation changed from discussing Ayling as a player who is “solid” to a player who is alongside Bartsson as the cornerstone for this wonderful season.
The versatility of Ayling also deserves recognition. The lack of support with the centre-half position was a major worry until Ayling showed his aptitude in the central role against Derby at Elland Road, where him and Bartley showed the understanding that they had gained from their time in the youth set-up at Arsenal, and some of the worries about cover dispersed.
Despite the loss on Sunday, the love and positivity around the club is still high as we look to push on from a wonderful season up to this point, and this has meant players like Ayling have been compared to past greats at the club.
The last time Leeds were present in the Premier League, we had the greatest Leeds right-back of my generation in Gary Kelly. Throughout my childhood, the right-back position belonged to the Irishman. Since Gary Kelly left Leeds, no one has really come close to even being talked about in the same breath as Kelly... until now. (It shows how much the Leeds fans hold Luke Ayling in high regard for that comparison even to be suggested.)
At Through It All Together, we named him Luke “Amen” Ayling because “amen” is a statement of assent or approval, and that’s exactingly what Ayling's performances have created at Elland Road: a deep sense of approval for what has been a wonderful start to his career at Leeds.
We all hope he will continue this form throughout the next few months and for Ayling and company to become legends in their own right come May. MOT.