Leeds United did not let Birmingham City dampen the mood around the club on Saturday as they made sure they could carry on with their centenary celebrations in fine fashion.
Kalvin Phillips got the only goal of the game in front of a packed-out Elland Road as the Whites overcame the Blues and propelled themselves into the top-two of the Championship table – just two points behind current leaders West Bromwich Albion (BBC).
In what appeared to be a rather open contest, Marcelo Bielsa’s side managed to shade the statistics ever so slightly, with WhoScored detailing that they had more of the ball (59% to 41%), made more tackles (21 to 17) and had more shots on target (five compared with four).
Whilst Phillips will win the majority, if not, all the plaudits for his performance in the middle of the park – and it would be incredibly hard to deny him of taking the spotlight – perhaps, one other man should have had his own performance spoken about a little more.
Indeed, the 23-year-old stole the show with his seven tackles, two interceptions, three clearances, two key passes and 80.4% passing completion rate (per WhoScored), however Luke Ayling also appeared to have a stellar game at the back for Bielsa.
Considering that he has been on the sidelines until the last three matches (including Saturday’s victory against Birmingham), there may have been concerns that the defender would not be ready to perform as well he has in the past.
However, the £2.25m-rated (per TransferMarkt) right-back showed just how crucial he will be for Leeds and Bielsa as they look to finally achieve promotion to the Premier League under the Argentine manager.
Ayling managed to achieve one tackle, one interception, three clearances and succeeded in blocking two shots as he completed 80.3% of his passes as WhoScored gave him a rating of 7.15.
Despite a rather robust and solid performance, Leeds Live only gave the 28-year-old a score of six, which was perhaps a rather unfair rating considering that they appeared to laud certain aspects of his game.
They wrote: “Tidy game on the right side of a three-man defensive line. Stood up as best as he could to the physical presence of Lukas Jutkiewicz. Again mastered the dark side of the game by going down at the right time for the referee to protect him.”
Indeed, Ayling may have only come back to the side following a lengthy spell on the treatment table, however his performance against Birmingham would suggest he has not lost a step and proves he could be vital to Leeds and Bielsa as the season continues to push forward.
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