First Leeds United exit after play-off loss is confirmed with a reunion on the agenda

-Credit: (Image: MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
-Credit: (Image: MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Almost eight years after arriving at Leeds United, Luke Ayling’s Elland Road tenure is officially over after 268 appearances for the Whites. The right-back’s contract was due to expire next month and he has agreed terms with Middlesbrough ahead of a free transfer that will go through on July 1.

The 32-year-old finished the season at Riverside Stadium, making 19 appearances after arriving on loan on January 10. Michael Carrick’s side ended the campaign strongly with only four losses in those matches Ayling played and he has now signed a two-year deal on Teesside.

Carrick said: “We’re delighted Luke is staying with us. After coming in on loan in January, he settled in very quickly and made a big impact, bringing his character and personality to the group.

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"He knows what it takes to be a success in this league. The club has got under his skin and the supporters have really taken to him as well, so it’s great to have him on board permanently.”

Ayling was at Wembley on Sunday to watch Leeds in their 1-0 defeat to Southampton. The vice-captain was seen mingling with supporters at the Boxpark venue near the ground. United’s defeat means Ayling will return to Elland Road with his new side next season.

After arriving under Garry Monk in 2016, Ayling established himself as one of Marcelo Bielsa’s key lieutenants from 2018 onwards. The former Bristol City man was a key figure on the pitch and regularly wore the captain’s armband in Liam Cooper’s absence.

Ayling’s official exit leaves him tied at 31st with Mervyn Day in the club’s all-time appearance chart, five short of Nigel Martyn and 16 short of Cooper, who may also leave Elland Road this summer. Stuart Dallas’s retirement means Daniel Farke could see all three of his longest-serving players move on in this close season.

Dallas’s injury didn’t gave Farke a chance to use him, but Ayling and Cooper have never been in favour with the German for a prolonged period of time. An injury on the opening day to Cooper allowed Pascal Struijk to cement his place in central defence, while Ayling did start nine of the opening 12 games, but struggled for form and lost his place in the matchday squads on some days.