Aird has key role in cup double

LEWIS Macleod has, by some distance, been the best of the youngsters to force their way into the Rangers first team in the last couple of years.

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Lewis McLeod is predecited to make a full recovery after his heart scare but his presence will be missed by Gers
Lewis McLeod is predecited to make a full recovery after his heart scare but his presence will be missed by Gers

So the revelation that the viral condition he has been suffering from this season has affected the muscles around his heart has come as a shock.

Ally McCoist has stressed the 19-year-old midfielder is receiving the best medical attention and predicted he will make a full recovery in due course.

"He is seeing the top people and we are quite happy with the way things are going and how he is improving," said McCoist. "I am sure he will come through it."

Nevertheless, the Scotland Under-21 international will not feature in the Ramsdens Cup final on Sunday or in the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final six days later.

And the absence of the cultured player against both Raith Rovers at Easter Road and then Dundee United at Ibrox will be keenly felt by his team.

It certainly has been in the second half of the 2013-14 campaign; Rangers have been far from convincing despite maintaining their unbeaten record in SPFL League One.

Yet, there are still graduates from the Murray Park youth ranks, and one in particular, who are excelling in the extended absence of their talented contemporary.

Indeed, Fraser Aird - who is Macleod's flatmate - has been one of the most consistent and effective performers for Rangers over the past few weeks and months.

The Toronto-born winger was certainly his team's outstanding player once again in the narrow 2-1 triumph over Arbroath at Gayfield on Saturday. In fact, it is not going too far to suggest the Glasgow club would have toiled to draw, never mind win, the game through in Angus without him.

Aird set up Jon Daly for the opening goal with a penetrating corner early on and nearly scored himself on two occasions during the first half.

He struck the underside of the crossbar with a 30-yard effort and then forced a fine save from Arbroath goalkeeper Sandy Wood with a curling free-kick.

He atoned for those near things at the end when - after some fine work by another kid, Calum Gallagher, out wide - he jabbed the winner home from just yards out.

The 19-year-old will, if he is given the nod by his manager, perform a key role in the keenly-anticipated meetings with both Raith Rovers and Dundee United.

It is difficult to say how McCoist's men will perform in their forthcoming games, against Championship and Premiership opposition, given the injuries they have. Much will depend on whether Ian Black, Daly, who limped off with a hamstring strain at the weekend, and Nicky Law are involved in proceedings.

Having their ability and experience in the side will increase the Govan club's chances of success in two matches which will go a long way towards defining their season.

However, the presence of Aird, who adds pace, penetration and width to his side's play going forward, in the starting line-up will boost their hopes of victory considerably too.

McCoist will monitor the fitness of Black, Daly and Law closely in training at Auchenhowie in the coming days and is hopeful they will all be available.

He said: "Jon is not a player who goes down injured easily. But he came off at the weekend before he could do any further damage. We will have a look at it this week.

"Nicky wasn't 100% at the weekend. He did a bit of a warm-up before we went out on the park and didn't feel right. There was no way we were risking him.

"We have a couple of big cup games coming up and it is not worth taking a risk on anybody in the league games that we have as we have already won the title.

"Doing that will give him every chance for the next couple of games.

"Ian, typically, is keen to play and we will see where we are with him later in the week."

Robbie Crawford - strangely as that is Arnold Peralta's preferred position - and Kyle Hutton formed the central midfield partnership in Arbroath.

Given that it was the first time they had been paired together in that important area of the park, Crawford and Hutton acquitted themselves admirably.

If Black and Law fail to recover in time for a game against Raith that sold out weeks ago then their young understudies will be more than adequate stand-ins.

McCoist has been more used to challenging for the major honours in Scottish football - the top-flight title, the League Cup and the Scottish Cup - in both his playing and coaching career.

But he understands the huge significance of the meeting with Grant Murray's outfit to the continued resurgence of his club.

"It is a massively important game for us," he agreed.

McCoist and Rangers, who are also set to be missing both Andy Little and David Templeton, are in far from ideal shape ahead of such a big fixture.

Still, with Aird and many others all playing well and itching to be involved in the first team there are definitely reasons for them to be optimistic.

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