LEEDS UNITED defender Luke Ayling is facing two months on the sidelines with a medial collateral ligament knee injury - but the message from the Whites is that the problem could have been worse.
The news of Ayling’s lay-off comes as United welcomed another defender back from injury with left back Barry Douglas playing an hour for United’s under-23s in a development fixture against Hull City at Thorp Arch on Monday on his return from a hamstring injury.
But Ayling’s injury comes at a time when United are already without another defensive option in the shape of Gaetano Berardi who is also facing a spell on the sidelines with a hyper-extended muscle injury.
Ayling was hurt in a challenge with Nottingham Forest’s Jack Robinson during the first half of Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Elland Road with the 27-year-old initially attempting to play on.
Ayling, though, then felt his leg give way soon after and scans on Monday revealed that the defender had suffered an injury to his MCL in his right knee.
Berardi, meanwhile, limped off during last Wednesday’s 2-0 victory over Ipswich Town at Elland Road after just 25 minutes with Berardi making only his second start after returning from a separate knee issue that had kept him sidelined for seven weeks.
Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa has not yet stated how long Berardi will be missing for but said on Friday that the Swiss footballer’s injury was “not a simple one.”
And Berardi is now joined on the sidelines by Ayling who has featured 16 times in all competitions this season, scoring one goal.
As well as being first and second choice right backs at present, Ayling and Berardi are also regarded as among the first two ports of call for cover at centre-back.
United’s head of medicine and performance Rob Price said: “We are all disappointed for Luke but the prognosis could have been worse.
“The injury to the ligament is isolated and the rest of his knee is fine which is encouraging.
“It is our job now as a medical department to work closely with the player and get him back involved as soon as possible, stronger than ever.”
Ayling is facing his second lengthy spell on the sidelines in consecutive seasons with the defender also injuring himself in the corresponding fixture against Forest last year on New Year’s Day.
Back in January, Ayling damaged cartilage in his ankle with the right back subsequently requiring surgery and missing the next four months.
Ayling Tweeted on Monday evening, saying: "Thank you all for your messages. Safe to say playing Nottingham Forrest at 5.30 isn’t my favourite fixture. Will be working hard to return as soon as possible."
Striker Patrick Bamford and forward Izzy Brown are United’s other two main first-team injuries at present with Bamford expected to be out until January with a PCL knee injury.
Chelsea loanee Brown, meanwhile, suffered an ACL knee injury back in January but the 21-year-old said earlier this month that he was “not long” away from making a return.