Luke Ayling in a 'good place' as Leeds United charge batteries ahead of Millwall clash

Luke Ayling's third goal for Leeds United was well worth the wait.

Friday, 24th January 2020, 5:58 am
Updated Friday, 24th January 2020, 7:30 am
Luke Ayling is in a 'good place' as Leeds United charge their batteries ahead of Millwall clash (Pic: Bruce Rollinson)

Nine months after a headed winner in the 3-2 success at home to Millwall last March, Ayling slammed home an absolute rocket in the scarcely believable 5-4 win at Birmingham City in the final game of 2019.

The goal was so good that, when assessing his first half of the campaign, Ayling mistakenly thinks he’s scored twice.

Yet there is no mistaking the present form of Leeds United’s right-back who is in rude health and admits he is probably benefiting from missing the first six weeks of the campaign following surgery on an ankle injury.

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Now all that remains is reversing the recent fortunes of his side.

The defender says Leeds will recharge the batteries in a weekend without a game and look to bounce back in Tuesday’s visit of Milwall.

Ayling’s approach to his fourth season with Leeds hit a stumbling block in the summer when he was required to go under the knife at the end of July for an ankle problem.

Ayling’s 2019-20 campaign eventually began in United’s 10th league game, as a 75th-substitute in the 1-0 win at home to West Brom in October.

Four days later, Ayling was back in the starting XI for the 2-1 defeat at Millwall and the 28-year-old has been a permanent fixture in the side since, be it at right-back or as a centre-back in times of need.

Consistently solid displays have followed, the highlight perhaps being Ayling taking matters into his own hands in United’s end-of-year epic at Birmingham, bombing up and down the right flank and scoring a peach. The PFA Player of the Month award followed for December and the defender has continued his good form in January.

United’s team goals are ultimately Ayling’s prime concern and he desperately hopes that this time the season ends with promotion to the Premier League, after last season’s agonising near miss.

In their bid to finally seal that place back in the top flight, United have a right-back who feels at the peak of his powers.

Asked about his own game and strong performances of late and what had been the key to those showings, Ayling said: “I don’t know. I feel fit after having some time off at the start of the season.

“I have come back into the team, I have felt good and I have chipped in with a couple of goals – or a goal.

“It felt like a couple of goals, it was a good one but I have chipped in with a goal and I have set up a few.

“I am in a good place at the minute.”

So too, based on the Championship table after 26 games, are Leeds, even allowing for a pretty miserable start to the new year and new decade.

Determined to get their second half of the season up and running, Ayling and United travelled to Saturday’s hosts, Queens Park Rangers, seeking to bounce back from the previous weekend’s 2-0 loss at home to Sheffield Wednesday, yet Nahki Wells’ ‘double handball winner’ consigned Leeds to a third defeat in six.

The accumulation of just six points out of a last possible 18 has seen what was an 11-point cushion in the division’s automatic promotion spots slashed to just three points, Fulham’s draw with Charlton on Wednesday moving them to within a win of second-placed Leeds.

Fulham have played one game more than the Whites, and Nottingham Forest, who are a point back in fourth position following a draw of their own in midweek, at home to Reading.

Leeds, though, left Loftus Road with a nine-day period without a game, before Tuesday’s hosting of Millwall.

Ayling says Marcelo Bielsa’s United squad will be determined to make the most of the break.

“It’s about charging our batteries,” said Ayling, whose batteries already still look pretty well charged.

“It’s about coming back for that game at home and making sure we are bang at it and trying to get a good win under belts.”

Asked if that nine-day break could ultimately help define the season in allowing Leeds to reset and go again, Ayling said: “I will tell you that when we play Tuesday and hopefully get three points.

“Things can work well, things can work against you.

“It’s 10 days until our next game so we are going to take it and chill out for a bit and then come back and work hard and try and win that game.”