JIM JEFFERIES would never encourage in-fighting at Riccarton, but he may find himself powerless to curb some good-natured squabbling this season. Penalty duties are up for grabs, and Hearts are not short on candidates.
Jamie Hamill expertly stroked his winning goal from the spot against Antwerp on Sunday. However, Kevin Kyle, John Sutton, Stephen Elliott and Eggert Jonsson are just four players likely to challenge him for the responsibility.
Hamill scored seven out of eight penalties for Kilmarnock last season, netting the rebound from his solitary miss. Kyle, Hearts' regular penalty taker, coverted six out of six last year but is still recovering from injury. Sutton took penalties at former club Motherwell, whilst Elliott struck from the spot in the recent friendly at Cowdenbeath. Jonsson has previously scored penalties for Hearts, including in the game which secured European qualification against Dundee United in May 2009.
Should Jefferies find himself venturing downstairs from his Riccarton office due to the increasing din emanating from the dressing-room, he will probably already know the cause of the uproar.
"I'm always willing to step up for penalties," said Hamill. "We had a wee laugh about it in training with big Kev. He says when he's back fit he'll be hitting the penalties. He's a big boy, you don't want to argue with him. Although I think I'll get to the ball quicker than him. There are a few of the boys who took penalties last year. Big Sutts grabbed the ball (against Antwerp) but I just asked him for it.
"He scored a few goals last season but I think I scored the most penalties. I missed one but I got the rebound. Out of eight penalties I scored seven and got the rebound with the one I missed. I think I scored four or five in previous seasons."
Hamill, though, is suspended for the first two matches of Hearts' domestic campaign, thus giving hope to his penalty-taking rivals.
The Edinburgh club travel to Ibrox this Saturday, where penalties for away teams can be as rare as Rupert Murdoch apologists. Jefferies expects the fight for penalties to linger on.
"If he (Hamill] sticks them in like Sunday there's going to be a good battle for it," said the manager. "When Kyle comes back, he likes to take the penalties. Jonsson is good too. There's a few of them like to take a penalty. Jamie took them for Kilmarnock and he has a good record. He's got that bit of belief that he can step up there. He wanted the ball first, it was no-one else's ball and he stuck it away fantastically."
Hamill explained the joy of converting a winning goal on his home debut."I was driving up for the game and it was absolutely hammering it down with rain. I was thinking, 'oh no, not again'," he said. "But we got out for the warm-up and the sun came out so it was a good day for the fans to get behind us. It was nice to get silverware as well at the end.
"You do get a different feeling playing at Tynecastle as a home player. You aren't getting as much abuse, that's for sure. That will come," he laughed. "It was good to play as a home team rather than the away team because the Hearts fans are brilliant.
"The manager was trying to chop and change things to give boys game time. I'm suspended for the first two games of the season so it's a difficult situation for myself."
He may be unable to play, but Hamill sees no reason why Hearts can't end their disappointing sequence of results at Ibrox. They last won away to Rangers in May 2004 but the Glasgow club's lack of transfer activity is a source of some encouragement to Saturday's visitors. Only the Spanish winger Juan Manuel Ortiz has been recruited by Ally McCoist to date in contrast to Hearts' four summer signings.
"Going to Ibrox for the first game of the season, I'm not going to feature.
"Hopefully we can go there and get a win," said Hamill, who arrived on freedom of contract last month alongside John Sutton, Danny Grainger and Mehdi Taouil.
"Why shouldn't we be confident? Rangers haven't signed many players. We've added to our squad and we've got two players for every position. We can't dwell too much on Rangers. We need to think about ourselves. We are capable of beating anybody on our day. It was good to add new faces at the start of the summer instead of dribs and drabs. That let us go away on the training camp and gel with each other.
"I've worked hard throughout pre-season and the gaffer was happy with me so I've just got to keep working hard in training through the week even though I won't be playing."