Leeds could sign “brilliant” upgrade on Luke Ayling after Phil Hay reveal

Winning their first three games of 2024 all by an emphatic 3-0 scoreline, Daniel Farke’s Leeds United will hope they can keep up their blistering start to the year as the fixtures continue to come thick and fast in the whirlwind division of the Championship.

Archie Gray was moved back to a right-back spot for the most recent 3-0 victory against Cardiff City after starring in midfield in the FA Cup, Leeds lacking options down that flank arguably with Luke Ayling’s departure finally confirmed to fellow second-tier outfit Middlesbrough recently.

Emotional farewells to the honourable Whites servant filled up social media when the news was finally confirmed, but Leeds won’t dally around in an attempt to find a replacement and an upgrade on their departing 32-year-old defender according to reports.

Leeds transfers – The search for Ayling’s replacement

Leeds are just one of a number of clubs pursuing a deal for West Ham United defender Ben Johnson this month according to Football Insider, the Hammers full-back entering the final six months of his contract at the London Stadium and weighing up his options as a result.

Sheffield United, Southampton and Rangers are all interested in bringing the adaptable defender to their respective clubs, with Football Insider further revealing that Johnson has turned down a new contract from David Moyes’ outfit to try and push through a move.

Farke’s men will hope they can fast-track to the front of the queue for Johnson’s services ahead of other suitors, keen to add strength in depth to the right-back spot.

Further, it feels like a no-brainer decision to try and land a short-term star who has been praised for his versatility at the Hammers by being able to play anywhere across the back four when needed.

Ben Johnson’s best position on the pitch

A flexible background figure under Moyes, Johnson has been dependable when called into action over a number of seasons for West Ham despite not being a fixed first-team presence.

Played predominantly at both right-back and left-back at the London Stadium to date, the 23-year-old has even stepped up to the mark and played as a makeshift centre-back and midfielder at times under the Scotsman.

Johnson’s appearances by position at West Ham

























Stats by Transfermarkt

When breaking through at West Ham, ex-Tottenham goalkeeper and football pundit Paul Robinson waxed lyrical about Johnson to Football Insider – labelling him as “absolutely brilliant” for filling in competently for Vladimir Coufal way back in 2021 when West Ham beat Liverpool 3-2.

Leeds will hope to get the best out of the multifaceted Hammers man at right-back however, who has shown signs of his defensive acumen on occasion for the Premier League side.

How Ben Johnson compares to Ayling & Gray

This move could even see him come into the Leeds side and displace teenage sensation Gray for the 17-year-old to occupy a more comfortable central midfield spot as a result.

Johnson trumps the young starlet in completing his basic defensive duties better, the 23-year-old far more capable of launching himself into aerial duels with 1.48 won on average per 90 minutes over the last year compared to Gray’s lesser 0.56 according to FBRef.


Moreover, the wantaway West Ham defender comes out on top when it comes to blocks and clearances as well – completing 1.15 interceptions and 1.32 blocks to Gray’s inferior 0.69 interceptions and 0.99 blocks.

Johnson could certainly add an additional solidity to the Leeds back four as a result, allowing the Elland Road masses to forget about club icon Ayling exiting also.

Despite having his minutes significantly cut with the Hammers this season, Johnson boasts more progressive passes and carries than the departing Ayling from far fewer minutes – averaging 3.62 progressive passes and 1.97 progressive carries compared to Ayling’s 2.90 progressive passes and 1.72 carries.


Farke and Co will look to sanction this deal to bolster the defence further to help when the games become even more tense and important as promotion comes into view, softening the blow of Ayling upping and leaving by landing a Premier League calibre defender who is only on £20k per week.

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