FRASER AIRD today backed Rangers team-mate Lewis Macleod to come back stronger than ever after recovering from the illness that ruined his season.
Macleod missed the second half of the 2013/14 campaign after contracting a debilitating virus that at one stage attacked the muscles around his heart.
But the Scotland Under-21 midfielder has been given the all clear by doctors to return to action and was with the Gers squad in the Highlands last week.
Light Blues manager Ally McCoist has stressed that he will resist the temptation to fast-track the 19-year-old into his side.
And Aird, who shares a flat with Macleod, has no doubts his close friend will play a key role in the Ibrox club's push for the top flight. He said: "Lewis is a good friend of mine and has been since I came to Rangers. Obviously, I hope that he is back playing for us as soon as possible.
"He has made good progress since he has come back and I am sure he will get his fitness and skill levels back to what they were at before he was ruled out in no time.
"He is one of the best young players in the team and an important player for our side. It will give us a huge lift when we get him back into the side."
The Rangers Young Player of the Year added: "I saw how much being out affected him. If you are a professional footballer then you want to play every week, simple as that. It is hard not getting the chance to do that.
"But I am sure that he will be back in no time and will have another great season for us. We will need all of our best players to get out of this division this season and Lewis is one of them."
Meanwhile, Aird has admitted that Rangers will be driven on by a chance to rejoin Scottish football's elite - including their Old Firm rivals Celtic - in the top Premiership next season.
The Toronto-born player, who is looking forward to the pre-season tour of his homeland and the United States next week, has played for the Gers since they dropped to the Third Division.
And the 19-year-old said: "Playing in the top flight seemed a world away when we were in the bottom tier.
"But now we can definitely see some light at the end of the tunnel.
"We know that playing in the Championship will not be straightforward. We know we will have to play well to get out of this division.
"But we all want to get back to the level Rangers should be playing at.
"To play for Rangers in the Premiership will be unbelievable, especially after where we have been. It will be an incredible achievement for us.
"To be in a side that takes on Celtic at Ibrox will be amazing.
"But we know we have to play well against teams like Hearts and Hibs this season in order to get there."