Ayling’s tremendous 49th-minute strike from the best part of 30 yards put them on level terms after a first half the Red Devils dominated, but Leeds had thrown the odd dangerous counter-punch in.
Within five minutes, Leeds were 3-1 down, within 19 5-1, which was the final score.
In two matches against their historic rivals at Old Trafford since returning to the Premier League last season, Leeds have conceded 11 goals, inevitably leading to criticism in some quarters that coach Marcelo Bielsa’s attack-minded team were too naïve.
But Ayling pointed out it was not by design his team was so open at the start of the second half.
“We said at half-time that we needed to keep it tight and try to get forward a bit more and create our own chances,” he said.
“Some people might say we scored too early in the second half but a really poor five minutes cost us the game. Against a good team like that once there are spaces for them to go into they’ve got quick players and really good players.”
Leeds were lacking holding midfielder Kalvin Phillips and it was telling. Bruno Fernandes, the man Phillips’s stand-in Robin Koch was deputised to mark, scored a hat-trick and the task was made harder because Paul Pogba regularly drifted infield from the left wing, setting up three goals from there before creating a fourth for Fred from the position he was meant to be playing.
Phillips was an unused substitute, one of a number of leading players held back in the Premier League at the weekend after pre-seasons shortened by their involvement in the European Championship or Copa America.
Bielsa acknowledged the importance of Phillips’s absence – compounded, perhaps, by the fact Stuart Dallas played the first half at left-back so new signing Junior Firpo could be eased in from the bench after missing the last two games of pre-season through injury – but defended Koch.
“Phillips is a player who always shines,” he commented. “I don’t think it’s a question of individuals as to why we couldn’t play a more balanced game.
“I liked how (Koch) played. I thought he was a dynamic player, he was present, he was willing, committed. He made lots of effort and he had presence throughout the game.”
Leeds responded well to their last Old Trafford loss, conceding just 24 goals in their last 24 games of the season, including a 0-0 home draw with the Red Devils.
Ayling said they would learn from defeat and after a first two days when the value of full stadia was highlighted by six out of eight home wins, Leeds have Saturday’s Elland Road game against Everton to look forward to.
“We will go back, see what happened and try and get it right for the next game,” promised Ayling.
“We were beaten by four (goals) here last year, it’s nothing new to us, we came back and did all right for the rest of the season. We will get a few lads back in the team, lads coming back late from internationals, and we’ll go again.
“I know it is a bad result for us but it is great to see fans back in stadiums. We can’t wait to get back to our place.”