Luke Ayling signed with Leeds United from Bristol City before the 2016/17 season and quickly became a mainstay along the backline. That season, he helped anchor a Leeds defense that was fourth in the Championship in goals allowed, and missed the playoffs by only 5 points. This past summer, expectations were high for the defense, and Ayling was named vice-captain by former manager Thomas Christensen, and looked to be set for another season as one of the best right backs in the Championship.
Ayling had a wonderful start to the season, and was a big part of Leeds’ defensive front that only allowed 2 goals (and 8 shots on target) in the first 7 games. Leeds even awarded him the Player of the Month award for August. His play earned him a new contract, which was signed on October 17, keeping him at Elland Road through the 2020/21 season. However, the 26 year old did have a particularly poor run of form in October, when he was at least partially responsible for goals by Reading, Sheffield United and Derby. He looked slow and was often out of position during this stretch, leading many to believe he rest for the next few games.
Because of his poor form during that stretch, he was given a 6 overall rating for our half-season review. However, as the season went on, he was better, grabbing an assist in a 2-0 defeat of Barnsley FC, and helped Leeds to 6 more wins. Then disaster struck. On the first day of 2018, in a match against Nottingham Forest, Ayling was injured in a tackle by Liam Bridcutt and was ruled out for the year. He would miss 19 games after getting surgery on his ankle.
However, Ayling persevered during his rehab and was able to come back ahead of schedule, and played very well in the final match of the season, helping Leeds beat Queens Park Rangers 2-0.
Final Season Grade: B+
Ayling was inconsistent at times this season, but generally was one of the more reliable defenders, aside from a bad October. With only one assist, he failed to contribute much offensively, but he has never been an attack-first outside back. After Ayling was injured, the defense took a noticeable hit, allowing 35 goals in the 19 matches he missed, compared to 25 goals allowed in the 27 matches that he started. This was not helped by Liam Cooper and Gaetano Baradi’s absences, but it still highlights Ayling’s critical importance to Leeds’ success. Hopefully Luke can continue his leadership and form next year, and help bring Leeds’ defense back to its 2016/17 prowess.
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