Middlesbrough threw away two valuable points at home to Hull City on Sunday as the pressure on manager Jonathan Woodgate rose up another notch. But it could have been even worse if it wasn’t for Daniel Ayala.
The giant centre-back came to the fore as Hull, who came back from 2-0 down thanks to a pair of Jarrod Bowen finishes, pushed for a winner in the dying stages in front of a despondent Riverside crowd.
Boro needed one of the most experienced, on-pitch generals to step up and marshal the troops – and Ayala was more than happy to oblige.
With two successful tackles and six clearances to his name, the former Liverpool youngster was the pick of Middlesbrough’s players during a punishing second half. In fact, it was the sort of dominant, commanding centre-back performance which explains why Leeds United have identified Ayala as a potential January signing, according to the Northern Echo.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side might have the best defensive record in the whole of the Championship so far but that does not mean another centre-back would not be welcome at Elland Road.
Inspirational captain Liam Cooper has been subbed off through injury twice this season and little Gaetano Berardi, a full-back by trade, is hardly the sort of centre-back who will strike fear into the heart of opposition strikers.
Leeds’ tendency to concede from crosses or set pieces, meanwhile, is another problem Ayala could solve – perhaps off the bench when The Whites are hanging on in the dying seconds.
But don’t expect Middlesbrough to let the giant Spaniard go without a fight.
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