LEWIS Macleod is set to play a key role for Rangers as they bid to return to the top flight of Scottish football next season.

Gers midfielder Macleod spent the second half of the 2013/14 campaign on the sidelines after contracting a mystery virus.

And there were serious concerns for the 19-year-old's wellbeing when it emerged the condition was affecting the muscles around his heart.

However, the Scotland Under-21 international has been given the all-clear to resume when pre-season training starts next week.

And his contemporary Robbie Crawford, who has come up through the youth ranks with him at Murray Park, expects him to be back as good as ever.

Macleod has faced adversity in his embryonic Rangers career in the past and has always recovered fully.

Indeed, two seasons ago he suffered ligament injury in a knee in a game against Montrose at Ibrox in January - and came back in the final game.

Crawford, who is hoping to establish himself in Ally McCoist's team in the SPFL Championship this term, is confident he will do so once again.

He said: "Lewis has been through a difficult time, but I have no doubt at all that he will come back this season and play as well as he ever has.

"Lewis works incredibly hard on his game and I am sure he will get back to where he was before he was ruled out with his dedication and professionalism.

"I am sure that Lewis is looking forward to getting back for pre-season training and getting his fitness levels up to where they were.

"If he can do that then I would fully expect to see him in the starting line-up for the first competitive game of the new season."

Crawford, who can play in a variety of positions, was not involved in the Rangers team regularly last season himself.

But he still made over 20 appearances and netted two goals for the Glasgow giants as they went undefeated in League One.

The 21-year-old admits next term will be huge for him and has vowed to challenge for a regular place in McCoist's side in the second tier.

He said: "I have been pleased to be involved in the first team in the Third Division and in League One. But I want to take my game to a new level in the new season.

"I have worked hard on my game in the last couple of years and feel I have learned a great deal and developed as a player. But now I am keen to get more starts and feature more."

Rangers boss McCoist has so far only released three players during the close season; Chris Hegarty, Andy Little and Ross Perry.

And he has just brought in two new faces, former Scotland striker Kenny Miller and ex-St Mirren centre-half Darren McGregor.

Crawford, though, anticipates that the competition for places in the squad will be intense as they step up to the Championship.

He said: "The young boys did really well last season.

"These guys will have seen the likes of myself, Fraser Aird, Calum Gallagher, Barrie McKay and Lewis Macleod getting games.

"I am sure they are thinking: 'If they can do it then so can I'. There are some excellent players coming through and that is how they should be thinking."

Crawford readily admits it will be far more difficult to win the Championship and a third successive promotion than it has been in the past two seasons.

Edinburgh clubs Hearts and Hibs have dropped down to the division from the Premiership and there will be other full-time clubs alongside them.

He said: "Winning the league will be our priority.

"There are some big clubs in the Championship and there will be some big crowds at our games. But that is something for us to look forward to.

"I am sure the fans will enjoy going to these grounds."