It’s official: Scott Fraser is finally a Heart of Midlothian player. The 28-year-old, who came through the ranks as a promising youngster at Dundee United before venturing down south, has joined on loan for the remainder of the season, and could even be involved for the upcoming clash with Dundee at Dens Park.

 Alex Lowry back at Rangers and Barrie McKay out for the foreseeable, Fraser adds to the creative options in the middle of the park.

“He’s somebody who will bring experience and a goal threat in the final part of the pitch,” Naismith explained recently. “He’s an intelligent footballer and it’s something we hope to get done.

“People up here have maybe lost touch with him [since he left Dundee United in 2018]. He was an exciting prospect at Dundee United and he’s gone down and had a really good career in England.

“He’s got an appetite to be in the final third, creating chances and scoring goals. He has the vision to see good passes. And on top of that, at 28 he’s got good experience from the English game and he understands what Scottish football is about.”

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Ups and downs

Fraser has found himself struggling for game-time at Charlton Athletic this season – and, in truth, has failed to seize his opportunity when he has featured. He found himself out of the matchday squad altogether at the start of the campaign, then featured regularly off the bench before getting a run in the team. He soon fell out of favour again though, playing a grand total of seven minutes in Charlton’s past seven games.

Naismith expressed the player's attributes and noted he" consistently scored goals and provided lots of assists". But why are Charlton allowing him to leave?

The radar above shows how Fraser has been getting on compared to other central midfielders in England’s third tier, and the results aren’t especially impressive. Usually playing as a No.10 in a 4-2-3-1 or as a left-sided central midfielder in a 4-3-3, he ranks highly for deep progressions (passes and dribbles into the final third) and dribbling OBV (On Ball Value, a metric that includes a variety of dribbling statistics) but there isn’t all that much to shout about thereafter. His overall OBV is well below the league average, as is his passing OBV, and he doesn’t offer much out of possession either.

The main problem appears to be that for a playmaker, Fraser hasn’t been creating all that much. As the graphic above shows, he has mustered just 12 key passes in total this season, and they have all led to low-quality chances. Each opportunity created has an average xG of 0.06, meaning it would take around 20 to finally get a goal.

There have still been some nice moments though. Naismith referenced Fraser’s vision as a big plus for the midfielder, and the Hearts head coach isn’t wrong. It’s also something that’s exceptionally difficult to coach – you can either spot little pockets of space, or you can’t. Even in a poor season on a personal note, Fraser’s ability to spot a clever pass and execute it has been evident. Here are a couple of typical examples.

Fraser receives the ball in a good position, and spots his team-mates' run in behind. There isn't much space, but that's okay: Fraser slides it through expertly, and the pass is weighted just right.

In the example below, Fraser collects the ball from deep. He pivots and drives up the park before releasing an excellent through ball. His team-mates can't miss.

To gain a better understanding of what Fraser is all about, we need to look a little further back.

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Past success

Fraser’s numbers from this season aren’t exactly representative of his ability, and it’s unfair to judge him on these alone. The figures he was posting last season, when he was a regular at the League One club, paint a far more complimentary picture.

The main takeaway is that Fraser’s overall OBV was well above the league average, suggesting that his all-round play was far more effective than his midfield contemporaries in England’s League One. He still ranked highly for deep progressions and creating chances from open play, and curiously his defensive OBV was pretty high, despite not making all that many tackles or interceptions. He wasn’t very involved off the ball – he is a playmaker, after all – but when he was called into action, he handled himself well.

So, what changed? Well, the manager for one. Michael Appleton took the reins in September last year, and the team didn't perform as well as they did in the previous campaign before he was relieved of his duties recently. The team’s shape has changed too – under Dean Holden, Appleton’s predecessor, Charlton usually lined up in a 4-3-3 with a No.6 sitting at the base of midfield. Fraser was playing a similar role to the one that Jorge Grant and Alex Lowry have shared for Hearts this season, and was far more effective as a result.

Fraser is a player who likes to drift to the left when moving forward and isn’t hard to see why. He is an excellent crosser of the ball – both from set pieces and from open play – and he works well in tight areas. The crosses below are typical examples.

This should encourage Hearts supporters. But in an ideal world, we would like to see how Fraser has fared when playing as a playmaker in a 3-5-2. If we cast our minds back a little further, we can do just that.

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Why Fraser suits Hearts

Fraser was with MK Dons during the 2020/21 season, and it is surely his performances from this campaign that have caught Naismith’s eye. Back then, the League One club played in a 3-5-2 shape that is very similar to Naismith’s preferred formation, and they tended to boss possession. The Milton Keynes side averaged around 65 per cent possession in their league fixtures – a huge increase on the 55 per cent or so that Charlton have averaged over the past two seasons, and more in line with the sort of ball dominance that Hearts tend to enjoy at home.

The system benefitted Fraser enormously. MK Dons would finish the season in mid-table but the Scot was one of the most effective midfielders in the league. He scores exceptionally well in overall OBV, deep progressions, creating chances from open play, dribbling and winning fouls. He was taking a lot more risks and they didn’t always pay off – Fraser gave the ball away a lot – but he was creating high-quality chances. On average, opportunities that he fashioned had an xG/shot of 0.12. They were twice as good as the ones he has been creating this season at Charlton. And, encouragingly, better than the xG/shot of 0.08 Hearts have been creating in the Premiership, in general, this season.

Take a look at the breakdown of the chances he created above. Notice how many of his passes are played into the opposition box in between the posts, providing his teammates with an excellent chance of scoring. He finished the season with five assists to his name, and probably should have had a couple more, but was let down by his teammates’ occasionally wayward shooting. Below are a couple of examples of Fraser at his creative best.

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A savvy addition

Fraser has struggled to get going this season, but the same can be said of many of Charlton’s players. The team are struggling at the lower end of the table, they haven’t won any of their last ten league matches, and they have recently sacked their manager. Fraser didn’t fit neatly into his system. The playmaker has some defensive responsibilities but his best performances have arrived when he is given more creative license.

That’s exactly what Hearts can offer, and Naismith will be hoping that Fraser can replicate his form from the 20/21 season as a result. Fraser may have fallen down the pecking order at The Valley, but he remains a technical and creative midfielder. Playing in a team that plays to his strengths should help the 28-year-old get back to his best – and if he can do that, then Fraser can make a big impact in Gorgie between now and the end of the season.