FRASER Aird could have been in Montego Bay this week, soaking up the 28-degree Caribbean heat as a member of the Canadian squad in the Concacaf federation’s under-20 World Cup qualifying tournament.
Instead, the Rangers winger has remained in an increasingly wintry Scotland to try to help the Ibrox club resuscitate their Championship title challenge.
If they are to maintain any credible hope of overhauling Hearts at the top of the table, Aird admits Rangers cannot contemplate anything less than victory when the teams meet at Ibrox tomorrow night with a 13-point gap separating them before kick-off.
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But the 19-year-old remains defiantly confident that he is a member of the best squad in the Championship, who can inflict a first defeat of the campaign on Hearts.
“A draw is no use to us and we should be winning any game at Ibrox,” said Aird. “We will go into this game with all guns blazing to, hopefully, get the three points. Hearts are undefeated but if we can beat them, they might go on a bad run which would be good for us. We can definitely claw back their lead if we win this game.
“I think we have a better squad than Hearts but we need to prove it. It’s easy enough saying it, but we need to prove it when it comes to the big games. There isn’t a better time to do that than on Friday night.”
Rangers have been found wanting against both Hearts and Hibs in the league so far this season, losing all four matches against the Edinburgh clubs.
“It’s hard to say why that’s happened,” added Aird. “We’ve just not played our best football when it has come to those games. We’ve not scored as many goals as we should have done in them. We need to start firing. It is these big games that you get judged on, especially when they mean as much as this one does. It’s a chance to prove ourselves.”
Hearts’ new striker Género Zeefuik has claimed the title race will be over if the Gorgie men win to open up a 16-point lead. While few would reasonably argue with the logic of that assessment, Aird believes Zeefuik’s comments were premature.
“I think it is a wee bit disrespectful to say that,” claimed Aird. “There are still a few months to go in the league and lots of games to be played. Teams will have bad results towards the end of the season. We need to go out and win on Friday and those comments won’t last long, will they?
“We know we have what it takes to beat Hearts. We know what we have to do. I don’t think we need those comments pinned on the dressing room wall or anything like that. The boys all know how much this game means to the club, the players, the coaching staff and the fans. We want to do it for ourselves.
“We have enough scrappers if that’s what it’s going to come to. We’ve got enough good footballers too. If Hearts want to come to Ibrox and play good football then we can do the same.
“It’s probably going to be a battle. They are looking forward to the game, but we are looking forward to it too. It’s probably a game that if you look back at the end of the season it will have been decisive.”
Aird has not started a match for Rangers since the 4-0 defeat by Hibs at Easter Road on 27 December in Kenny McDowall’s first outing as caretaker manager. But, despite only being a substitute in the two subsequent victories over Dumbarton and Alloa, he has no regrets about missing out on representing Canada in Jamaica this month.
“I was in the squad to go away with the under-20 team for the World Cup qualifiers but I spoke to the gaffer and he said the best thing for me was to stay here and be involved in the big games we have coming up,” said Aird.
“I said that was totally fine because this next month or so is massive for the club going forward and I am pleased I will be involved.
“I think all of the players tend not to read into what happens off the pitch at the club because we can’t control that. The only thing we can control is the results and if we win on Friday everyone will be on our side again and we will be getting a bit more praise.”
Aird has also been adapting to new living arrangements this month after cash-strapped Rangers sold his flatmate Lewis Macleod to Brentford as soon as the transfer window opened.
“That was really disappointing,” said Aird. “He has been one of our best players in the last two seasons and he’s also my best mate on and off the park.
“I was speaking to him last night and he will be tuned into the match on Friday night, cheering us on against Hearts. I wish him all the best in his new challenge at Brentford and he will do well there because he is an excellent player. It’s a quiet house now without him, although it’s not as dirty!”
• Fraser Aird was speaking at the launch of Topps SPFL’s Official Sticker Collection 2015, available in supermarkets and all good local independent newsagents.