'Probably wanted to kill me' - Leeds United boss Farke reveals dressing room contribution to win

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Leeds United manager Daniel Farke singled out a surprise candidate for the spotlight after a 3-1 Elland Road victory over Swansea City.

Farke’s men came through a tricky first half test and a chaotic first minute of action to seize control of the game by the break and went on to take the result away from their visitors just after the hour mark. Daniel James’ 40-second opener was chalked off by a linesman’s offside flag before Jamie Paterson took advantage of Pascal Struijk’s poor header to make it 1-0 to Swansea before a minute had elapsed. But Leeds hit back with Joel Piroe’s sliderule finish on four minutes and Georginio Rutter made it two with a classy second in stoppage time before the interval. James lashed in the third on 61 minutes and Leeds could have had more, creating numerous chances to extend their lead.

Sam Byram and Pascal Struijk returned to the starting line-up after missing out at Rotherham United but the big surprise on the team sheet was the absence of Luke Ayling. In his place, Djed Spence came back into the matchday squad after a two-month lay-off through a knee problem. Farke credited Spence’s place on the bench to the Spurs loanee’s efforts in training.

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"It was no gift, Djed since 11 or 12 days in training you could see him growing from training session to training session,” said Farke. “After such a long injury he can't be there with 100 per cent but we got the feeling he deserved already to be in the squad. He was quite on it in training, I was quite impressed. We decided to have him as an option. If he works that hard, especially on his fitness level, each and every day to gain more and more rhythm he has good chances in the upcoming weeks to be involved with game time.”

But Spence’s return meant Ayling missed out on a place in a league game matchday squad for the first time since August 2022 and Farke did not take the decision lightly. He said: “I have to say, I'm working in this job a few years and have worked with many, many good players and had difficult decisions to make. To leave him out for the first time, knowing what it means to him, it was probably one of my most difficult decisions I've ever made in this job.”

Farke heaped praise on the veteran for his response to disappointment and a team-first approach that the manager felt played a big part in the performance Leeds produced in the victory. “My value of him and his value for the squad won't change at all because I rarely talk about something like this, but in terms of football character, team-mate character Luke Ayling is second to none and probably the best player I've ever worked with, in these terms,” said Farke.

"He brings the spirit and identity into the dressing room. He's so, so crucial for us. If he plays many minutes, if he's on the bench with a few minutes or not in the squad, he brings the heart and soul into the side. He makes sure we don't drop standards in training. Even before the game he was in the dressing room giving everyone a boost, firing them up. To bring this spirit, he even gave me a hug although he probably wanted to kill me. What a character he is.”

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Although the dressing room’s older heads, the promotion heros of Marcelo Bielsa’s side, have found themselves watching on for parts of this campaign, Farke believes Ayling, Liam Cooper and Stuart Dallas – yet to return from an April 2022 injury – will play a vital role in any glory achieved at Elland Road this season. “If we are, come next May, in a good position and we can speak about a successful season then it's not the players in the spotlight or a new manager, it's the guys like Ayling, Cooper, Dallas who bring this into the club,” said Farke.

DIFFICULT DECISION - Daniel Farke said the decision to leave Luke Ayling out of the Leeds United squad for the win over Swansea City was among his most difficult ever, as a manager. Pic: Bruce RollinsonDIFFICULT DECISION - Daniel Farke said the decision to leave Luke Ayling out of the Leeds United squad for the win over Swansea City was among his most difficult ever, as a manager. Pic: Bruce Rollinson
DIFFICULT DECISION - Daniel Farke said the decision to leave Luke Ayling out of the Leeds United squad for the win over Swansea City was among his most difficult ever, as a manager. Pic: Bruce Rollinson

"These guys are the real Leeds legends. This top class run with six home wins in a row and 13 points out of the last five games, would be impossible without the impact of Luke Ayling. No one should underestimate his impact. He made sure everyone was on it, that Djed Spence has to work really, really hard to be allowed to be in the squad ahead of him, he made sure Archie Gray came back with a top class performance. If I have to name one player who should be in the spotlight I would definitely go for Luke Ayling.”

As for the players who featured in the victory, Farke was glowing in his praise, particularly in light of such a frenetic and difficult start. He said: “I have to say I have to give many compliments today to my lads. The start was ridiculous. It felt in the last home games it was already dead and buried at half-time. In this game we go in the lead, but 30 seconds later the goal was disallowed and we concede out of nothing. I thought at this moment it could be a really long day at the office. Although it was a difficult and complicated game, we didn't lose our nerves, we were spot on, didn't give any chances away.

"We had a few problems in our pressing but we were able to turn the game with two fantastic goals and good chances. The second half was more impressive, we spoke about a few details in our pressing to get more control, to get more high winnings of the ball. After we scored the third goal, we missed an unbelievable amount of chances. The only thing I could criticise was our efficiency. All in all a pretty mature performance and a well deserved win. I'm pretty happy today.”