By Mark Smith

12th Oct, 2019 | 8:08am

'Brilliant news' - Whelan backs returning Leeds ace to play 'massive role'

Former Leeds United forward Noel Whelan has tipped defender Luke Ayling for a big role after the international break.

The right-back returned to action off the bench against West Brom and made his first start of the season in the defeat at Millwall.

Talking to Football Insider, Whelan said, “Ayling has a massive role to play after the international break.

“It’s brilliant news for Leeds to have him back, with Liam Cooper out for six weeks.”

“You know what you are getting from Luke Ayling – total effort, good experience and great energy. Stuart Dallas has been outstanding as a wing-back, but he may be needed elsewhere again.”

Ayling can play at both right-back and centre-half, and Marcelo Bielsa will need to utilise him in the coming weeks due to the injury picked up by Cooper.

The 28-year-old made 40 appearances in the Championship last season and was unlucky to lose his place in the side after picking up an injury towards the end of the campaign.

Dallas has excelled down the right-hand side in his absence, meaning Bielsa may look to use Ayling in the heart of defence alongside Ben White.

Ayling has won an average of two aerial battles per game this season according to WhoScored, almost double than Gaetano Berardi, who only averages 1.4.

It would be a smart decision to bring Ayling into the back four – he is much more reliable in defence than the Swiss enforcer.

Berardi struggled against Millwall last time out. His red card may have been rescinded but he should never have been in that position in the first place.

The time has come for Ayling to step in for Leeds, and his first test could be against Birmingham after the international break.

In other Leeds news: Victor Orta shares why Leeds recruited Paul Heckingbottom